“The Interview” and the sanctity of private business in public international law… since the 16th century

the interviewBy now it is well known that Sony was cyber attacked some weeks ago allegedly as a reaction to “The Interview”, a satirical film that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-Un. I haven’t seen the film and I don’t know anybody who has seen it, but Barbara Demick, a North Korea specialist writing in New Yorker, asserts that, considering it is meant to be a freaky parody, it does justice to the first impression the average Western visitor may get of Pyongyang.

An FBI investigation concluded that the regime was behind the attack, but the North Korean Government denies the accusations. Technology security experts have doubts about the involvement of the Asian country. Nevertheless, President Obama hasted to promise retaliation.

President Obama said that the attack “caused a lot of damage” and showed the need of “clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates. Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West”, and everybody knows that when it comes to international politics this is something Americans really dislike (my own words; not the President’s). Secretary of State John Kerry framed the US position in terms of protecting freedom of expression. Consistently, Sony chief Kazuo Hirai has recently said that they are all for civil liberties: “Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association – those are important lifelines of Sony and our entertainment business”. Continue reading ““The Interview” and the sanctity of private business in public international law… since the 16th century”


Who holds the responsibility to protect? And who is to be protected?

Lucke Glanville argues in his recent Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect (2014) that this responsibility dates back from the 16th and 17th centuries. However, a good number of scholars believe that the first “humanitarian intervention” took place in Bulgaria in 1876, when Ottoman troops attacked villages killing thousands of civilians. Outraged, the British public demanded action, and indeed European Powers mobilised to require the Sultan to protect the Christians living in Eastern Europe. Former PM Gladstone famously campaigned for intervention echoing “the moral sense of mankind at large”. Western Europe intervened. Eastern European Christians were to be protected.

Last Thursday, President Obama announced that he had authorised “limited air strikes” against the combatants of the self-named Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It was the first American military action in the country since 2011. But this is not 2003, and President Obama did his best to “make this perfectly clear”: It is a “humanitarian intervention”; it is “at the request of the Iraqi Government”; “we have a mandate to help”; “we cannot turn a blind eye”; “we must prevent the total destruction of innocent Iraqis, which would constitute a potential act of genocide”. America intervenes. Iraqi Christians (and Kurdish Yazidis) are to be protected.

It can hardly come as a surprise that the US is leading this mission with no end date for the time being. So far, the UK Government has only pledged the delivery of humanitarian and medical support. Meanwhile, le Quai d’Orsay has been trying to push its European counterparts to agree on something on the matter. The EU Political and Security Committee recognised on Tuesday that individual members states are free to send weapons to the Kurdish militia, but did not reach an agreement on any EU-level intervention.

r2pThe words carefully chosen by President Obama last week remind the language used by the supporters of the “Responsibility to Protect” (also known as R2P). Coined in 2001, R2P firstly means that states are obliged to protect their citizens from international crimes. This is not new, because in essence protecting the people within the national jurisdiction is what International Human Rights Law has been all about since 1948. However, R2P also claims that if a state fails to protect its people, the international community has the responsibility to intervene, using force if necessary. This, if it could be a norm, would constitute a major change. But it is not a norm. Continue reading “Who holds the responsibility to protect? And who is to be protected?”

UN bodies insist: Human rights have extraterritorial effects

fronterasThe United States and the Vatican have recently been criticised by three UN committees for the very same reason: Because both States refuse to accept that their human rights obligations have effects beyond their national borders.

In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) demanded the Vatican to put an end to the impunity in relation to sex abuse and to remove immediately all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers (find CRC’s Concluding Observations here). In its defence, the Vatican representative argued that “priests are not functionaries of the Vatican”; they are “citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country”. The CRC rightly responded applying the general principle of International Human Rights Law that says that States must respond for the human rights abuses committed wherever they exercise “effective control”, regardless of whether it is within or beyond national boundaries. Continue reading “UN bodies insist: Human rights have extraterritorial effects”

NSA surveillance confirms the realist paradigm, and I am not happy about that

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Barack ObamaOnly a few days ago I briefly presented the research of my life, which I have just started and deals with the influence that human rights make on foreign policy making in Europe. In particular, at the moment I am reading and thinking about why countries choose to embrace and foster certain human rights norms rather than others. Right when I was about to accept that principles, ideas and identities play a significant role in the construction of national interests and, therefore, in the way countries interact with each other (“anarchy is what states make of it” and so on), we read in the papers that the US has been spying on foreign allies for a good number of years.

In making sense out of it, no other analyst has been more spot on than Thucydides and his Melian Dialog back in the 5th century BC: “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must”. Continue reading “NSA surveillance confirms the realist paradigm, and I am not happy about that”

Intervening militarily in Syria? Many more questions than answers

Kal Syria The EconomistOnly last week, a US-led military intervention in Syria seemed inevitable. Today, the immediate future looks more uncertain. In a historic debate, the UK Parliament refused to endorse a military action. President Obama referred the matter to Congress. NATO Chief announced that they would not be part of a strike. And the Arab League Secretary General said that a military action outside the UN mandate “is out of the question”.

As of this writing, since the UN research team has not announced its findings, there is no official truth about whether chemical weapons were used in Damascus on 21 August. I think we should first wait for this team to complete their job, although I am personally ready to accept that it happened. MSF treated patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” and Amnesty International has gathered information from survivors of the attack. Nevertheless, the scale of the effects remains unknown. France speaks of 281 deaths, MSF counted 355 and so did the UK Government, while the meticulous US intelligence mysteriously raised the number to 1429 victims. (Toby Helm rightly asks: “Why, if UK relations with Washington were so close, and the UK had known it was facing a crucial parliamentary vote, was Cameron not given access to new, higher casualty figures from US intelligence, cited by Kerry?”). The UN team will not be able (it is not in their mandate either) to determine who used or released the chemical agents, but the attack was directed against areas under control of the opposition forces, which gives us a relevant clue.

Future evidence may prove me wrong, but I believe that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons against its own population, which is clearly prohibited by customary international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime (Rules 74 and 156 of the ICRC study on Customary International Humanitarian Law). However, when I am confronted by the possibility of a non-UN sponsored military attack in Syria, I ask myself many more questions than I can answer. Continue reading “Intervening militarily in Syria? Many more questions than answers”

Why the US should ratify international human rights treaties: A response to Eric Posner

Eleanor Roosevelt UDHR 1948In a recent article in Slate, the Chicago University Law professor Eric Posner argues that the US should not ratify the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because international human rights treaties “are little more than a collective back-scratching exercise involving many of the world’s most unsavory nations”.

Posner identifies several risks in the event the US entered human rights treaties like the aforementioned: “The views of other parts of the world could come into play” in the interpretation of domestic disability rights legislation; the Convention would prevent the US from repealing or narrowing its legislation, in the unlikely scenario this may even be intended; “US failures to ratify other human rights treaties have not stopped nearly all other countries from doing so”; and “then there’s the question of whether it makes sense to impose Western-style standards for disability rights on other countries”. Posner finishes his article with this emphatic conclusion:

The human rights regime is a vast international Potemkin village, a kind of communal effort among states to deceive one another and mainly their citizens, or an excrescence of the bureaucratic imperative to deny error and bad intentions, using whatever legal forms happen to be available. Think of it as the modern version of the brass band and fancy bunting that surround the dictator while he harangues the crowd. Fine if other countries want to do that, but why should we be complicit?

Since Posner doesn´t seem capable of identifying any compelling reason for which the US should ratify international human rights treaties, I hereby offer him three: Continue reading “Why the US should ratify international human rights treaties: A response to Eric Posner”

Other ways to “help”

They are gathering money in London for Sandy’s victims in New York. Based on the initiative “Jeans for Genes”, the idea is that you give £5 and, in return, you’re allowed to wear jeans at work. It seems the campaign is going to be quite successful, obviously only among those who don´t normally wear jeans from Monday to Friday, but rather suits, ties and jackets.

I heard about it yesterday, and immediately I remembered a group of university students I saw in Manchester in March 2011, soon after the Fukushima crisis. Continue reading “Other ways to “help””