Tag Archive | "UN"

Meeting in The Hague on 3 February 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dismissed genocide claims by Croatia and Serbia. UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek.

70 Years of Justice

Meeting in The Hague on 3 February 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dismissed genocide claims by Croatia and Serbia. UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek.

Meeting in The Hague on 3 February 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dismissed genocide claims by Croatia and Serbia. UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek.

This week we celebrate a very important birthday – on April 18th, 1946, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was born. Since its birth 70 years ago, the ICJ has had the opportunity to hear 161 cases. These cases have been entered from large countries like the United States and the former Soviet Union all the way to small ones like Burkina Faso and Malta. I thought I would take this opportunity to explore the history and purpose of this very important court as it’s not one that many American jurists get the opportunity to encounter.

To do so, we need to go back a little further in time. You may be surprised to learn that what Americans know as “alternative dispute resolution” actually predates judicial settlement in history. Mediation had its origins in ancient India and the Islamic world, while arbitration was used throughout ancient Greece, tribal Arabia, and medieval Europe. Finally, in 1899, the International Court of Arbitration was established by the first Hague Peace Conference in the newly built Peace Palace. By the time judicial settlement took its place in the international realm, World War I had just come to an end. The precursor to the ICJ, the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), was established by the League of Nations in 1920 and heard 29 cases that mostly dealt with issues from WWI.

The PCIJ came to an end when the League of Nations was dissolved and with the establishment of the United Nations, so came the ICJ. This coincided with World War II and a whole new set of issues. Article 1 of the UN Charter defines the ICJ’s purpose is “to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” Also seated in the Peace Palace at The Hague, Netherlands, the ICJ is composed of 15 judges elected for nine-year terms. Besides settling disputes between nations (contentious procedure), the ICJ also issues advisory opinions on legal questions submitted by UN bodies and agencies (advisory procedure).

However, advisory procedure should definitely not be seen as secondary to contentious procedure. In 1947, the ICJ decided on the conditions necessary for a state to be admitted to the UN, something that still controls today. 1950 brought about procedure regarding the genocide convention following WWII. 1993 and 1995 brought about advisory procedure on the legality of the threat and use of nuclear weapons. Of course, contentious procedure has made its mark on the world too. The Nottebohm case (1950) has been a cornerstone of nationality determinations the world over. The United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran case (1980) was brought by the US against Iran following the Iran hostage crisis. Finally, another 10 cases are currently in progress and range on issues from maritime borders to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and disarmament.

Whether or not you believe that international public law is important, the ICJ has made determinations that affect you. Whether you live on a small fishery on the coast of Iceland, drive a gas-powered tractor on a potato farm in Idaho, or dream of a world where nuclear missiles are no longer a threat, your life has been shaped by the decisions of the ICJ. The last 70 years have moved our world in a positive direction. Happy Birthday, ICJ – cheers to the next 70.

Lorne Hiller is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Executive Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: The International Efforts to Protect Marine Biodiversity

For four days in the first week of April, the United Nations held meetings to negotiate the possibility of a new international treaty to protect marine biodiversity. The UN working group, High Seas Alliance (HSA), a partnership of 27 non-governmental organizations, plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), discussed creating a new treaty to provide additional conservation measures and to improve sustainable use of marine resources. HSA noted that the high seas and the seabed area make up 45 percent of the surface of the planet, making it a valuable resource. However, that valuable resource and all of the wildlife in it are currently under severe threat from habitat loss, climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and overexploitation in commercial fisheries.

Without additional conservation efforts by the international community many marine species may face extinction. Image Source: Public Domain Images

Without additional conservation efforts by the international community many marine species may face extinction. Image Source: Public Domain Images

If a new treaty can be created for protecting marine biodiversity, it will fall under the umbrella of the Convention on the Law of the Seas, which governs all aspects of ocean space, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries, exploitation of living and non-living resources, protection and preservation of the marine environment, marine scientific research, and the settlement of relevant international disputes. In the past the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has encouraged more countries to join the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. The Convention has been in force since 1994 and currently 165 of the 193 UN members have ratified it.

A new treaty could be crucial, as the UN points out, “[m]arine biodiversity is vitally important for human well-being as it underpins a wide range of ecosystem services on which life depends.” In addition, not only is the possible treaty important but at the 2012 (Rio+20) meeting in Brazil the UN Member states committed to address marine biodiversity in order to preserve and restore healthy and productive oceans with rich marine biodiversity in order to ensure food security and the livelihoods of millions of people. Unfortunately, that same year the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released a report indicating that 87% of the world’s fisheries were either overexploited or fully exploited. Likewise, a new report released by Oceana explains that we still have a major problem with U.S. fisheries wastefully discarding by-catch. Every year 2 billion pounds of unintentionally caught fish or other marine animals are injured or killed by fishing practices and then tossed overboard. Poor resource management will diminish the global efforts to achieve a restored, healthy marine ecosystem.

According to a senior advisor of Greenpeace International, Sofia Tsenikli, urgent action is needed to protect the oceans. She expressed, “It’s simply scandalous that still less than one percent of the high seas is protected.” The UN Secretary-General also called on countries to take action to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Target of conserving 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020. The Aichi Targets were adopted in 2010 at a Conference in Aichi, Japan. Target 6 read: By 2020, all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

After meeting last week, the High Seas Alliance will continue the discussion into the future and will present its recommendations on the possible international marine biodiversity treaty to the General Assembly in September 2015. There is hope for change as some countries are taking action now to address the existing threats. For example, Vietnam just released a new national strategy to confront several issues of concern for its marine ecosystem. The Vietnamese plan calls for an increase of 30% of their mangrove forests by 2020, an effort to maintain its coral reefs, and an effort to prevent aquatic species from becoming threatened with extinction. The government plans to implement the strategy by raising awareness about marine resources and providing training on sustainable management of the environment.

Also, just last month the governments of Bermuda, Monaco, the Azores, the United Kingdom, and the United States came together to sign a declaration to conserve the Sargasso Sea. The declaration is called the ‘Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea’ – also known as the ‘Hamilton Declaration’ and it is the first time an international alliance has voluntarily come together to protect a high seas ecosystem using the existing international legal framework. The Sargasso Sea is located in the mid-Atlantic and is known for its unique floating seaweeds and rich biodiversity. The Sea is under pressure from wastewater discharge from ships, pollution, fishing, harvesting of Sargassum algae for fertilizer and biofuel production, and seabed mining. Government representatives from Sweden, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, Bahamas and South Africa expressed support for the declaration, together with five international organizations. The Hamilton Declaration, although a non-binding agreement, will serve as a platform to minimize adverse effects in the Sargasso Sea, which is home to numerous species such as angelfish, whales, dolphins, tuna, turtles, sharks, rays, and European and American eels.

While the international community awaits the results of the UN working group’s meetings and discussions on a potential new treaty, other efforts made around the globe may help to mitigate the anthropogenic influences currently damaging our marine ecosystems. However, without further collaborative attempts to preserve our resources some marine species may end up permanently wiped out.


Kristen Pariser is a 3L, a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, and the Executive Editor for The View From Above blog.

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jet carrying Bolivian president

Critical Analysis: An “Imperial Skyjacking”

After attending a conference in Moscow, Bolivian president Eva Morales boarded a private airplane and began his journey home. However, shortly after departure, the plane was diverted to Vienna, Austria, a detour not originally planned by the president or his crew. Upon landing, it was reported that France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain had refused to allow Morales’ plane to pass through their airspace or, alternatively, conditioned passage on getting consent to search Morales’ plane once it was on the ground. Without a viable place to refuel, Morales was forced to land his plane in Vienna, where, allegedly without Bolivia’s permission, his plane was searched by airport police officers.  Nothing – or no one – of interest was found. As a result, Bolivian officials are alleging their president was “kidnapped by imperialism” and that certain European countries had violated international law.

jet carrying Bolivian president

President Morales following his unscheduled layover in Vienna (Patrick Domingo/AFP/Getty Images)

The root cause of the incident can be traced back to an interview of Morales in Moscow, just days before he was scheduled to fly home, in which the president indicated that Bolivia would “consider the idea” of granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the infamous whistle blower wanted by the United States for espionage. The United States, seemingly unable to compel cooperation from its allies, attempted to downplay international support of the former 30-year-old NSA contractor by saying it would not “scrambl[e] . . .  jets or engag[e] in high-level diplomatic bartering” to have Snowden returned to the states. Technically, it has done neither of those things. But pressuring European countries to deny the passage of any plane that might be carrying Snowden, a tactic that arguably threatened the safety of Bolivia’s president, may be just as serious.

Already, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has agreed to hold an emergency meeting on the matter, and Bolivia’s UN ambassador has announced that the country will file a formal complaint with the UN, calling the incident an act of aggression. What exactly Bolivia plans to allege in its complaint is still unclear. It could narrowly define the incident as a breach of diplomatic protocol, or it could refer to the situation more generally, alleging that all states have the right to consider an application for political asylum free of pressure from more powerful states. Some are even calling it an act of piracy. Whether the actions of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are sanctionable remains unclear, but Bolivia feels strongly that, regardless, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, should intervene.

As details of the incident continue to surface, one thing is clear; Snowden has done more than expose secret U.S. surveillance programs. He set off a chain of events that has helped emphasize the need for a strong international legal system in a world that has become increasingly interconnected. After all, it is international law that “provides . . . stability and order and . . . a means of predicting the behavior of those with whom we have reciprocal legal obligations.” Hopefully the United Nations will take this into account as the world watches to see how it responds.

J. Matt Thornton is a second year law student and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law