Georgia Law Professor MJ Durkee publishes “Interstitial Space Law” at Washington University Law Review

Professor Melissa J. Durkee, the J. Alton Hosch Associate Professor of Law here at the University of Georgia School of Law, has published her article “Interstitial Space Law” in the latest issue of the Washington University Law Review.

Here’s the abstract:

“Conventionally, customary international law is developed through the actions and beliefs of nations. International treaties are interpreted, in part, by assessing how the parties to the treaty behave. This Article observes that these forms of uncodified international law—custom and subsequent treaty practice—are also developed through a nation’s reactions, or failures to react, to acts and beliefs that can be attributed to it. I call this ‘attributed lawmaking.’

“Consider the new commercial space race. Innovators like SpaceX and Blue Origin seek a permissive legal environment. A Cold-War-era treaty does not seem adequately to address contemporary plans for space. The treaty does, however, attribute private sector activity to nations. The theory of attributed lawmaking suggests that the attribution renders the activity of private actors in space relevant to the development of binding international legal rules. As a doctrinal matter, private activity that is attributed to the state becomes “state practice” for the purpose of treaty interpretation or customary international law formation. Moreover, as a matter of realpolitik, private actors standing in the shoes of the state can force states into a reactive posture, easing the commercially preferred rules into law through the power of inertia and changes to the status quo. Attributed lawmaking is not a new phenomenon but it may have increasing significance at a time when multilateral lawmaking is at an ebb, lines between public and private entities are blurring, and the question of attribution becomes both more complex and more urgent.”

The article’s also available at SSRN.

“Africa’s time”: Team members reflect on SE Model African Union summit

logoIt’s our pleasure today to publish this post, jointly written by the Georgia Law team that last week was named Best Delegation at the Southeast Model African Union, and so is eligible to compete in the 35th annual national competition in February in Washington, D.C. The 6 students on the team each won individual achievement awards at the event, which was hosted by the University of Georgia African Studies Institute and cosponsored by the law school’s Dean Rusk International Law Center. They write:

Introduction

“This is Africa’s time.”

So said the keynote speaker and Honorary Consul of Sierra Leone, Cynthia Jarrett-Thorpe, to delegates at the 20th Annual Southeast Model African Union, This was the beginning of what turned out to be an eventful competition. Over the course of the next 2-1/2 days we would be tasked with working together in various negotiations, in order to provide solutions to complex situations on behalf of the country we represented, the Republic of Niger.

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► Rebecca Wackym left, listens to statement by delegate from South Sudan

Rebecca Wackym, 1L, Executive Council

My role as a delegate for the Republic of Niger in the Executive Council was not only as an advocate for the interests of Niger, but also a servant to the interests of the entirety of the African Union. As a member of the Executive Council, I was not required to draft or advocate for a resolution. I introduced a hypothetical crisis situation caused by Boko Haram to the committees, who then had to create resolutions to solve the crisis.

Regarding the process, I had to work with other delegates in the Executive Council to first decide on how to setup the crisis in a way that would guide them to a solution while simultaneously, allowing each committee to achieve the goals set forth in the Union’s Agenda 2063.

The Executive Council ferociously debated how we wanted to achieve these goals in the context of the Boko Haram crisis. For example, we contemplated:

  • Would we ask the Committee on Peace and Security to involve states with more resources to combat Boko Haram?
  • Would we rather rely on our own resources, even though we had far less than the Americans?

I had to advocate for a position that struck a balance between safety and sovereignty of Niger and the goals of the Agenda. We eventually negotiated an agreement to ask the committees to formulate plans in a tiered manner, which put the African Union’s sovereignty first, but allowed for support outside of the Union.

However, our work did not end with tasking the committees. We also were tasked with creating a final report, called a “communiqué.” We had discretion to adopt an entire committee’s resolution, or certain parts, or to scrap the entire resolution and draft our own. At this point, we divided into groups so that we could discuss the edits, if any, that we wanted to make to the resolution. I was asked to look over the Committee on Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights’ resolution because the other delegates believed that my whole t3 months in law school afforded me more expertise in regards to judicial reform in the African Union. Drafting the communiqué might have been one of most hectic couple of hours, but with exceptional teamwork we churned out a comprehensive report.

My takeaway from this experience is that the diplomatic system works well when all the parties decide put the interest in solving the crisis above their own individual interests. The Executive Council ran efficiently when we all saw each other as colleagues working towards a common goal rather than a competition of whose interest would be given most prominence.

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From left, team members Shummi Chowdhury, Amanda Hoefer, and Chanel Chauvet

Amanda Hoefer, 1L, Committee on Democracy, Governance and Human Rights

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the 2016 Southeastern Model African Union Competition held at UGA, with the support of both the Dean Rusk International Law Center and the UGA Department of African Studies. I represented the Republic of Niger in the Committee on Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights, and helped with the drafting of four resolutions, addressing a wide spectrum of issues, including the scope and jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the use of transitional justice as a means of compensating victims of human rights abuses, the reduction of corruption throughout the continent, and the African Union’s role in promoting economic growth throughout the diaspora.

The most rewarding aspect of this experience was working with undergraduate students with little experience in mock diplomacy; having participated in Model United Nations in high school, I was able to use my rusty knowledge of parliamentary procedure to help steer my fellow delegates to a rewarding and enriching resolution. Diplomacy competitions are an incredible opportunity to flex your teamwork muscles and to collaborate on creative solutions to complex problems; in a word, competitions like SEMAU are empowering. I enjoyed watching those in my committee who had never participated in a similar competition become increasingly confident in their public speaking and critical thinking skills, and loved having a chance to dig into complicated diplomatic problems myself.

I also enjoyed having the chance to learn about African culture and politics, having never had a particular opportunity to immerse myself in the topic before this competition. While preparing for the competition during the Fall semester of my 1L year was a bit stressful, my inner-diplomacy nerd jumped at the opportunity to do some research about Niger and the AU, and to delve into the complex policy problems that we were asked to face. I’m incredibly grateful to both Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center and the University of Georgia African Studies Institute for their patronage and support in this endeavor, and look forward to competing again at the national competition in February.

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On behalf of Niger, Johann Ebongom (center) joins in discussion

Johann Ebongom, LLM, Committee on Economic Matters

The Model African Union is known as a competition in which student delegates represent their selected countries and develop an understanding of African issues from an African perspective. Practically speaking, the Model African Union is a simulation of the African Union Summit which occurs twice a year in Africa.

At the 20th annual Southeastern Model African Union competition, I had the opportunity to participate in the Economic Matters Committee. We convened on the afternoon of November 3, to discuss on two main agenda topics:

  • Promoting a balanced and inclusive economic growth: aspirations and implementation
  • Promoting a sustainable ecosystem and climate resilient economies: aspirations and implementation

The objective was to debate and engage in diplomatic principles and standards to ultimately resolve major economic issues currently harming African countries. Some of these issues include concerns of water resources and agricultural development, management of mineral resources, debt relief, energy and development, multilateral trade negotiations, and food security. The committee created a resolution that represented the majority opinion of the different countries present. Following negotiations, we presented the resolution to Heads of State and Government during the General Assembly on the last day of the event for their final approval.

The Delegation of Niger recognized that despite a sustained agricultural productivity growth, a large number of households continue to face food insecurity and malnutrition problems due to on-site effects of soil degradation and the mismanagement of revenues from the exportation of the continent’s natural resources. At this point, it was clear that our challenge would not only be that of enhancing our agricultural production to meet the increased food demands of the expanding population, but also to focus on the judicious use of soils in order to promote a sustained productivity in the foreseeable future.

Niger promoted the implementation of a tax, on the total revenue from natural and agricultural resources exportation, which would be deposited and managed at the level of the African Union through an African Fund for Development. The funds would then be distributed back across the continent to support integration-related projects which will lead to the inclusive economic growth of the continent. Niger supported this motion using the slogan:

“Give what you own for the benefit of the continent!”

Niger also reminded the delegation about the importance of a collective solution that would benefit the 54 African countries. We also urged the honorable house to vote for a resolution that will take into account the effects of the current Boko Haram security issue, which directly affects the economy of a number of western African countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Niger was leading the negotiations and after long hours, a compromise was found! The resolution was adopted by a 2/3 majority of the house.

I had the honor of being promoted by the organizers of the competition as a “Parliamentarian Dais” for the rest of the session. As such, my role was to ensure the respect of for the rules and proceedings during the working session, and advise the Chair in maintaining the parliamentary order during the debates. I also had the opportunity to fill this role during the General Assembly of Heads of State and Government on November 5, 2016.

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► Nelly Ndounteng, right, seeks to intervene on behalf of Niger

Nelly Ndounteng, LLM, Committee on Social Matters

The 20th Southeast Model African Union (SEMAU) competition was a noble experience for me. I am delighted to have represented the law school as the Republic of Niger in this conference. As the representative for the Committee on Social Matters, I was tasked with the responsibility of providing a solution to:

  • Empowering the African Woman and Eliminating All Forms of Violence and Discrimination (Social Economic, Political) Against Women and Girls.
  • Eliminating Youth Unemployment and Promoting the Creativity, Energy and Innovation of African Youth as the Driving Force Behind the Continent’s Transformation.

I was especially excited to work on the sub-topic that dealt with African women because it required the committee to resolve matters concerning hardship, inequality and degradation suffered as a result of male counterparts.
It was my first experience using parliamentary procedure, and I must say I enjoyed every bit of it. During the first session, I decided to observe the proceedings in order to see how procedure was carried out. Once I was comfortable, I began participating, and later, took the lead, which made the whole experience more exciting for me.

My sincere appreciation goes to the founder of SEMAU, the organizers and most importantly, the Dean Rusk International Law Center for allowing me this great opportunity to promote Africa’s development.

Shummi Chowdhury, 1L, Committee on Pan-Africanism and Continental Unity

The Southeast Model African Union Competition (SEMAU) proved to be an eventful and rich learning experience to kick off my 1L career. I participated on the Pan-Africanism Committee as the delegate for the Republic of Niger. One of the important tasks we faced on the first two days of the competition was to read and scrutinize the resolutions from all the countries represented, and then engage in debate over the merits and drafting of the resolutions. Having been exposed to the concise and effective style of legal writing, I took an active role in drafting the two main consolidated resolutions that passed through our committee. This competition helped me reflect on my newly acquired skills and for the first time appreciate that all the work spent on my courses thus far actually have substantial application outside the classroom.

nigerThe part I enjoyed most during the competition however was in the negotiations that occurred. Everyone had a resolution, or an idea that they wished to promote. For me, I focused on human trafficking as it affects Niger, particularly in light of the Boko Haram crisis. In order to get my ideas drafted into a resolution, I had to work the room and speak to different delegates to find common ground and similar interests. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of negotiating and coming together with distinct parties to draft a resolution that satisfactorily acknowledged differing goals in a coherent manner.

Though the competition occurred in November, which is a very busy time for 1L students, I have no regrets and am thankful to have had the opportunity to participate. It really forced me to manage my time, so that I could focus on the competition and also stay on top of all the schoolwork and studying that is required to be successful in law school.

Chanel Chauvet, 2L, Committee on Peace and Security

As the delegate for the Republic of Niger in the Committee on Peace and Security, I was engaged in the intricate task of educating and debating my fellow delegates about the impact of Boko Haram and al-Qaeda within my state. According to the United Nations, more than 20,000 people have been killed, and 2.2 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the Boko Haram and al-Qaeda.

My primary focus however, involved the potential remedies that the African Union could provide through the use of education. One of the solutions that Niger emphasized in accordance to the “Achieving Freedom From Armed Conflict, Terrorism, Extremism and Intolerance by 2063: Aspirations and ecowasImplementation” topic was the implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) within school and military curriculums. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have considered how treaties related to IHL can be strengthened through the legal system, as detailed here; however, the organizations have yet to explore these other avenues of implementation. Educating the youth about the legal protections and obligations of parties involved and affected by conflict would ultimately serve to generate respect for treaties that promote IHL and prevent conflict.

Perhaps, what was the most difficult part about the committee process for me was the need to use of parliamentary procedure in order to communicate my points effectively to the other delegates. This required extensive knowledge of the rules and procedure, in order to redirect the committee to certain point favorable to my country. Fortunately, our team had laboriously practiced parliamentary procedure in the weeks leading up to the competition, so we were well-prepared.

Conclusion

Overall, we are grateful for this experience, and pleased with our team performance. We managed to earn the “Best Delegation” award, in addition to numerous individual awards.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law and our faculty advisor for extending this opportunity to us. We would also like to thank the African Studies Institute at UGA and its Director for his assistance.

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.”