Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Middle East comes to the Great White North

An unusual lawsuit has been filed in Quebec, Canada alleging that two Canadian construction companies violated international law when constructing buildings for Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

The Palestinian village of Bil'in is seeking an injunction to stop further construction, and demolish apartment buildings already erected in Moddin Illit, a Jewish settlement northwest of Ramallah, and $2 million CAD in punitive damages.

The village of Bil'in was seized by Israeli forces from Jordan during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israeli settlers have constructed 30 buildings with 250 apartments and condominiums in the village.

The villagers claim that these actions violate the Fourth Geneva Convention; Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act; the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; and the Civil Code of Quebec.

Are the villagers right; do these actions violate international law? Even if they do, do the villagers have a right of action in Canada?

EIL will look at this issue starting with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

What is the controlling international law?

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that the actions of the Canadian companies - Green Park International and Green Mount International - violated the Fourth Geneva Convention; Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act; the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; and the Civil Code of Quebec.

Each of these conventions create or utilize international law in defending the rights of civilians in conflict zones.

The Fourth Geneva Convention - formally known as the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War - establishes assumed responsibilities and rules followed by States during armed conflicts.

Article 2 states that these rules apply to States partially or totally occupying territory of another member to the convention. These rules apply even if one of the participants in the armed conflict is not a member to the convention.

Jordan and Israel are both signors of the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

The territory in question is still considered occupied territory.

The borders between Israel and Jordan were fixed in an armistice agreement signed between the two countries in 1949. This border is known as the "Green Line." When Israel militarily annexed Jordanian territory past the Green Line in 1967 - including the village of Bil'in - this area became an occupied territory under customary international law. A legal status that has not changed to this day.

Source: The International Court of Justice's advisory opinion: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (2003).

So, since both Jordan and Israel are members to the Fourth Convention, they are bound by the responsibilities laid out in the convention. These responsibilities apply to the area surrounding Bil'in, even after all this time. The whole area is considered an occupied territory under international law.

(There is a time limit of one year after the close of general military operations that applies to certain articles of the Fourth Convention, any provision that is past this time limit is excluded in this analysis.)

What responsibilities does the Fourth Convention mandate in this situation?

Article 49 forbids the mass forcible transfers - such as removing people from their village. There is an exception for military necessity. The same article forbids resettling your own people in seized territory. Allowing Jewish settlers to take over the village of Bil'in appears to violate this article.

Article 53 forbids the seizure of real or personal property from individuals, unless militarily necessary.

Lastly, why sue in Canada?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically incorporates international law into its legal system in Section 12(g).

This means that the villagers of Bil'in can argue certain points under international law that might be excluded in other forums.

Practically, the Canadian court has personal jurisdiction over the construction companies. So if the villagers get a favorable ruling, a Canadian court could actually stop the construction through use of penalties.

What does this mean to you?

There are many issues to be resolved in this case. Can a Canadian court hear a Fourth Convention case that involves two other states? Should a private actor be held complicit under the Fourth Convention?

But I think these are detail oriented points and miss the big picture.

Private actors are using international law against other private actors to settle humanitarian disputes.

This is not two states arguing over mineral rights. These are two groups of private individuals settling a dispute and using international law for their arguments.

The impact of this type of usage may be felt everyday.

The only comparable type of case I have see are Alien Tort Claim Act (ACTA) cases in the U.S. and they rely on domestic law. Plus, ACTA cases have been limited to the Law of Nations as it existed in 1776. (This is an incredibly limiting standard that has made cases of torture impossible to prosecute.)

Businesses may now have to consider whether their actions violate international humanitarian law. If it does, they may be subject to lawsuits.

At least in Canada.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

SIEL/CUP Prize for an Essay on International Economic Law

A prize has been established by the Society of International Economic Law and Cambridge University Press for the best essay submitted on any topic in any field of international economic law.

The competition is open to current students and those who have graduated within the last five years.

The prize consists of £200, as well as £300 of Cambridge University Press book vouchers and a three year subscription to the World Trade Review. The winning essay will be submitted to the World Trade Review for publication.

The closing date for submissions is 30 September 2009.

For submission details and terms and conditions, please see

Friday, March 13, 2009

G20 Blogging - An Opportunity

In April, representatives from the top 20 economies in the world are meeting to discuss the state of the world economies.

EIL began discussing this summit back in September of 2008.

Like everything and everyone else in the world, this summit has their own website:

Of personal interest, NGO Oxfam Great Britain, is providing 50 bloggers from around the world a chance to particpate in this summit - bringing their own fresh perspective to the negotiations and sessions.

If you think my approach to writing on international law and current events is worthwhile, I would like to ask a favor.

Please nominate me to be one of the bloggers invited to the summit.

You can do so at Oxfam's website: G20Voice.

The nomination form:


Joshua Lenon


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Call for Papers: 2009 British Institute of International and Comparative Law Conference

The British Institute of International and Comparative Law is seeking papers for their 2009 Annual Conference from new scholars.

The theme of the conference will be: 'Business and International Law' and will be held on June 5 2009 in London.

The conference is specifically seeking papers from new academics, graduate students, and new legal professionals.

More details can be found here:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fighting for Women's Reproductive Rights on a Global Scale

Slate has a good article titled, "Abortion Rights Go Global," written by Michelle Goldberg.

The article focuses on international legal instruments and bodies that are gradually recognizing a woman's right to control her reproductive health.

What interests me is the diversity of instruments mentioned.

The European Court of Human Rights is not surprising. Given that freedom of movement is one of the 'Four Freedoms' held central in the European Union, it was only a matter of time until women used to controlling their reproductive health in more secular countries ran into the procedural barriers erected in more non-secular nations - like Poland, Italy, & Ireland.

More interesting is the rise of cases being brought in other international settings. These include:

In this growing area of human rights law, a consensus is emerging about women's reproductive health and abortion.

States cannot deny a woman's right to an abortion, specifically in cases involving risks to the mother, rape, or incest.

What does this mean to the readers?

This standard is far from gaining worldwide acceptance.

Nations and non-governmental organizations are fighting this emerging standard.

I think it will be decades before this type of international jurisprudence affects people worldwide.

Still, it is encouraging to see the spread in recognition of women's rights in international forums and the use of these forums to improve the lives of women around the world.


U.S. Diplomacy Losing Power

Bolivia has the largest proven deposits of lithium in the world.

Almost half of the known lithium volume in the world is found in Bolivia.

Lithium is crucial in manufacturing batteries that are effective in electric cars. In order to break our addiction from polluting, rapidly depleting oil, large amounts of lithium is needed.

Bolivia is where the lithium is located.

Bolivia is also on unfriendly diplomatic terms with the United States.

Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to gain access to the lithium deposits.

“We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.

What does this mean to the readers?

Readers in the U.S. will see a further decline in the U.S. automotive industry - with all the attending economic fallout - as this industry cannot provide quality, electric cars.

Foreign automotive companies - Honda, Toyota, BMW, etc. - with access to Bolivia's lithium reserves will trounce U.S. car companies. They will have the cheap, electric cars that consumers will demand when oil becomes increasingly more expensive.

Let's hope that the U.S. State Department's Krishna Urs can fix this rift in diplomacy with Bolivia.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

U.S. vs. P.R.C. in WTO = KO

Canadian legal blogger - Michael Geist - has a great article breaking down the recent ruling on the U.S.'s complaint against China regarding intellectual property rights enforcement.

The article is titled, "Why the U.S. Lost Its WTO IP Complaint Against China. Badly."

The title says it all. The ruling provides some large loopholes in the enforcement of IP violations under the Berne Convention and TRIPS.

His point about China's high threshold of violations required to pursue a criminal conviction is especially interesting. China requires there to be 500 instances of copyright violation before they will initiate criminal prosecutions.

Mercurio writes:

"It also would seem to allow an individual to rent premises and set up shop selling pirated copies of music/DVDs and counterfeit TMs but avoid criminal prosecution as long as only 499 copies of each item are copied and sold."

What does this mean to the average person?

China's seemingly high threshold for criminal prosecution of IP violations means China can remain a safe haven for the smart counterfeiter.

Utilizing proven business techniques like on-demand production and just-in-time inventory strategies, organized counterfeiters could easily stay below the 500 instances threshold.

"I see you have 499 copies of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. You'd sure be in trouble if you had one more copy. I'd have to run you in as a counterfeiter."

So if you are looking for cheap knockoffs of Western products, head on down to the PRC.

They are practically given it away! These prices are too low to miss!

And it is all legal - at least under international law.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ICC begins

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun it's first hearing today.

Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga,is being brought on trial for war crimes that include violently forcing children to serve in his army and the use of children as sexual slaves.

Should these charges be proven true, I hope the justice of the court falls on Mr. Lubanga swiftly and harshly.

Hopefully, the sheer inhumanity of Mr. Lubanga's alleged deeds will not distract the court from it's true focus.

The ICC must have a fair and full hearing of all of the facts related to the case. There can be no doubt as to the strength and legitimacy of the outcome.

The United States is a signor of the ICC treaty. Bill Clinton signed during his presidency in 1998. George W. Bush ordered the signature withdrawn, leaving the United States as the only major Western power not to join as a court member.

This is the only way the ICC can establish itself as a force for justice in international law.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fighting Pirates on the High Seas..with Law!

The issue: Pirates!

For months now, headlines on television and newspapers scream pirates on the high seas!

In the failed nation of Somalia, pirates in tiny boats filled with men, automatic weapons, and rocket-powered grenades have been seizing ships that are filled with wealthy french couples, supertankers filled with oil, and $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, even battle tanks.

The waters off of Somalia are considered the most dangerous in the world. Pirates have attacked ships as far out as 300 miles from shore.

Why off of Somalia?

First, Somalia has no functioning economy since 1991 when the country's government collapsed. Piracy is a means to bring in wealth to a desperately poor country.

Secondly, Somalia is geographically positioned at one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world - the Gulf of Aden. It's is the only maritime route that allows ships from the Indian Ocean to quickly enter the Mediterranean Sea - without traveling all the way around Africa. Cruise and cargo ships alike bunch up in this narrow area and become easy prey to former fishermen who are heavily armed.

Can international law do anything to protect people on the high seas?

Controlling International Law:

The United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea (CLOS) is the controlling international law. It replaces customary international law that outlawed piracy.

CLOS focuses on piracy on the high seas - areas considered outside the control and jurisdiction of any one nation.

Section VII, Article 100 imposes a duty on all member nations to cooperate in the suppression of piracy in the high seas.

Article 101 defines piracy as:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

Article 105 allows one to seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board.

However, Article 107 limits this authority to seize pirates ships and arrest pirates only to warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorized to that effect.

A private actor cannot go pirate hunting; they must be authorized to do so by a State.

How does this affect you?

Nations around the world are mobilizing their navies into this narrow area to fight the Somali pirates.

European nations, the United States, and China have all moved naval forces into the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to escort ships and respond to attacks.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved actions by States to attack pirates not just on the high seas, but also in their bases in Somalia.

How will this affect you? Unless you are a sailor in a navy or a merchant marine on a cargo ship, you are likely to see no impact on your daily life.

If you are a Somali pirate, your life is about to get much more dangerous.