Archive for February, 2009

International Law as History and Geography Applied

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by jeremyleong

Some time ago, I was taught that international law was history and geography applied. In “Imagining Sovereignty, Managing Secession: The Legal Geography of Eurasia’s ‘Frozen Conflicts’”, Christopher Borgen seeks to validate this proposition to a good measure.

 

In the course of his analysis of the series of ongoing succession-ist crises in the post-Soviet states of Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Borgen pits respect for the right to self-determination against respect for pre-existing borders. He argues, “(s)ecessionist entities that are able to point to some previously existing boundaries to which they will conform have claims that are more likely to be viewed as legally legitimate…Thus, in an attempt to impose a bright line rule on the messiness of ethnic conflict and separatism, the international community gives weight to cartography and political geography. Being able to show a delineation on a map may not be dispositive of a claim for external self-determination, but it helps.”

 

He goes further, noting the prospects for the Westphalian system. “This legal system presupposes the existence of a state system and for its proper functioning, it has defined rules concerning secession that protects the existence of states. Geographical concepts such as territory and borders are used to this end…But states are still the core of the increasingly complicated international system and, absent any showing of a viable alternative, are still the best hope for broad-based approaches to peace and justice. Long live Westphalia.”

 

It is refreshing piece of inter-disciplinary legal scholarship. However, while reading it, I get the feeling that Borgen is wielding a dated instrument. Geography has always been part of international law. Or at least, it has always been part of the narratives that international lawyers construct. No points for saying it out loud now.

 

More importantly, it is a blunt instrument. Inter-disciplinary international law scholarship has developed far more incisive ways of looking at geography. For instance, law and economics scholars may view geography as an allocation of entitlements. This has the added benefit of accommodating the concept of territorial sovereignty as a basket of rights which may be further allocated. Constructivists may focus on the idealational value of geography. They may look at how territory, as defined on various pieces of parchment, provokes a response from people and policy makers. Behavioral economists may ask if there is a heuristic bias toward protection of territorial rights as opposed to other legal rights. Do we feel differently when faced with an infringement of territorial sovereignty as opposed to a piece of legislation which affords prescriptive jurisdiction?

 

Perhaps, these are more salient issues to examine in the future. The Opinio Juris blogpost which links to the paper is found at http://opiniojuris.org/2009/02/23/imagining-sovereignty-managing-secession-and-fourth-generation-warfare/.  

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Lunchtime Talk: Listening to What Developing Countries Say in Disbelief: Robert E. Hudec’s Complex Legacy by Prof. C.L. Lim (HKU)

Posted in Discussion Papers and Commentary, Upcoming Events and Announcements with tags , , , , on February 10, 2009 by jeremyleong

FILA…, in association with the Fletcher School‘s International Law Society, invites you to a lunchtime talk by Prof. C.L. Lim, Professor of Law and Associate Dean at Hong Kong University.

 

*LISTENING TO WHAT DEVELOPING COUNTRIES SAY IN DISBELIEF: ROBERT HUDEC’S COMPLEX LEGACY*

by

Prof. C. L. Lim, Professor of Law and Associate Dean, Hong Kong University Law School

With a special introduction by Prof. Joel P. Trachtman, Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School

*
Lunch shall be provided

Date/Time: 5th March 2009/12.45 pm to 2.30 pm

Venue: The Crowe Room, The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy

Kindly RSVP to Jeremy Leong at jeremy.leong@tufts.edu <mailto:jeremy.leong@tufts.edu> (places are limited)

Prof. Lim will speak on international trade law and distributive justice in the development context. In what he terms as the “conventional morality” of trade, Prof. Lim will address existing theories on trade law and developing countries and revisit the legacy of the late Robert E. Hudec. In so doing, build a new paradigm in understanding both the receptiveness and the bias today against arguments about right and wrong in trade law and policy.

More information on the event and the speaker may be found at http://fletcher.tufts.edu/FILA/pdf/Fletcher_5March2009.pdf.

 

 

Fragmentation of International Law: Dispute Settlement

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by jeremyleong

Here is a new angle for the fragmentation of international law discussion, in particular how individual international tribunals deal with fragmentation. Ruti Teitel and Robert Howse in “Cross-judging: Tribunalization in a Fragmented but Interconnected Global Order” argue against studying tribunalization in an aggregate quantitative assessment. Instead, they advocate a deeper qualitative study of whether tribunalization and fragmentation “introduces new dissonances and points in different and perhaps conflicting normative and institutional directions” to individual tribunals.  

 

In canvassing international human rights tribunals and international economic law tribunals, they find:-

 

Instead international legal order will resemble the messy porous multiple value and constituency politics of democratic pluralism, which is nevertheless underpinned by a more absolutist baseline commitment to the preservation of the human as such. This may still be in a sense fragmentation, but in mirroring non- or anti-hierarchical democratic pluralism this kind of fragmentation enhances rather than menaces international law’s claim to legitimacy… Tribunalization can come to sight both in “humanity law” and in international economic law as an attempt to purify international legal regimes from “politics”-a response to the international law skeptics’ claim or suspicion that international law is just an epiphenomenon or a justificatory rhetoric for power politics.”

 

My view is less hopeful. Teitel and Howse accept the limits of the assumption that “(t)ribunalization means depoliticization.” Tribunalization only leads to a new level of political game with new constraints. Yet, they accept that tribunalization and fragmentation need not be a problem so long as there remains a “commitment to openness in the project of legal hermeneutics” – a praxis driven,

construction and evolution of legal order, whether domestic or international.  

 

At the extreme, this is not merely constructivism but a form of “uber-constructivism”. To extend Wendt’s oft quoted observation that states do not know what they want, Teitel and Howse are postulating that tribunals do not know what they want. This ignores a simple legal and political fact of life for tribunals. Tribunals are creatures of consent and are bound by that consent. Their mandates are spelt out by treaty. Simply put, tribunals are told what they should want. Yes, I agree that sometimes this instruction is not spelt out all that clearly. However, to assume that states parties to dispute settlement treaties have themselves a collective commitment to openness in the project of legal hermeneutics” jumps too many analytical steps.

 

At their most conservative, Teitel and Howse may just be advocating for some sort of universalist interpretative technique which results in harmonization. To date, this exists: the VCLT. But Teitel and Howse appear to be advocating something beyond the VCLT and if so, must, in the absence of further evidence, fall foul of positive international law.

 

The paper can be found at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1334289.

 

Views and comments are very welcome!

Obama, Change and International Law Part II: A Historical View

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by jeremyleong

Sometime ago, we asked about how the new US President and his “Change” campaign affects international law.

 

Mary O’Connell from Notre Dame Law School offered a historical perspective in a Jurist Op-Ed. She traces US treatment of international law from Morgenthau to Obama and argues that scholastic developments in “political science and law have resulted in a decline in respect for and even knowledge of general international law in this country.”

 

Yet, she concludes on an optimistic note:-

 

“President Obama studied international relations at Columbia University and law at Harvard when the intellectual emphases were on civil and human rights but not general international law. Many of his new advisers in foreign policy are well known for their concern for human rights but are also associated with pressing for the use of military force even in violation of international law. Indeed, it is understandable that any student of political science in the United States in recent decades would conclude that the best way to show American commitment to human rights is to be willing to use military force in response to human rights violations…Complying with international law across the board in areas of human rights, the environment, the economy and the use of force may sound like a radical change for America. But it is change we should believe in.”

 

Complying with international law across the board is already proving extremely challenging. On one hand, President Obama, has taken immediate action on the Gitmo/human rights front. On the other hand, we wonder whether the US will succumb to protectionism and test the limits of WTO law in the face of the current economic crisis. (At least one commentator thinks so. See http://opiniojuris.org/2009/01/29/the-obama-stimulus-violates-international-law/)

 

For the full text of O’Connell’s Op-Ed, see http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2009/01/president-obama-new-hope-for.php. Cyber hat tip to Opinio Juris for pointing it out.