02 October, 2015

Nuclear weapons

The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP (Leader of the Opposition) has expressed his personal views about the UK's nuclear weapon capability - BBC News 30th September - Jeremy Corbyn row after "I'd not fire nuclear weapons" comment.   Corbyn's personal views are not - (at least not yet) - the policy position of the Labour Party which remains supportive of the need for UK nuclear weapons.  Mr Corbyn insists that he is seeking a mature debate on this subject.  Such a debate seems timely given that the government is to make its decision on Trident replacement in 2016.  The costs of replacement are massive (see BBC 9th April 2015) and that in itself adds another dimension to the debate at a time when the government insists that financial austerity is necessary and when many public services are under severe financial pressure.

It has been argued in some quarters (e.g. CND Trident and International Law) that renewal of Trident would be a breach of the UK's nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.   CND argue that:

"The Geneva Convention Protocol from 1977 states that ‘the civilian population shall not be the object of attack’ and prohibits ‘methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’.  (See here)
It is impossible to use a nuclear weapon selectively, meaning that launching Trident would certainly be illegal as there would be a huge number of civilian casualties and devastation of the natural environment. The ensuing radioactive contamination of the area would also violate the population’s ‘right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family’, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

A House of Commons Briefing Paper (SN06526 of 10th March 2015) has this to say:

"The UK’s Disarmament Obligations  Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the recognised nuclear weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. 

Successive Governments have insisted that replacing Trident is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the NPT, arguing that the treaty contains no prohibition on updating existing weapons systems and gives no explicit timeframe for nuclear disarmament.  It also insists it has taken a number of steps in support of the NPT, pointing to the significant downsizing of the British nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War, with the withdrawal of all other nuclear weapons systems except for Trident, the reduction to fewer than 200 warheads in the overall stockpile and the reductions in the operational status of the deterrent. 
Furthermore, the Government insists that sustainable nuclear disarmament can only be achieved through a multilateral process. The UK has the smallest nuclear arsenal of the five recognised nuclear powers and says it will be willing to place its remaining weapons on the table for negotiation when Russia and the US have reduced their arsenals to similar levels.  Others believe the Government could do more to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament by reducing the UK arsenal further."

What is the position in international law?

30 September, 2015

Saudi Arabia and the United Nations Human Rights Council

According to Amnesty International, 175 individuals were executed in Saudi Arabia in the period August 2014 to June 2015.  Recent reports state that they intend to execute (by beheading) a 17 year old male (Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr) and display his crucified body - Saudi Arabia plans to crucify teen as is ascends to UN Human Rights Council Chair.

Such barbarity is utterly incompatible with human rights and should be condemned internationally.

Instead, we see that Saudi Arabia is to head the Consultative Group to the President of the UN Human Rights Council.  The Consultative Group comprises 5 Ambassadors - UN Watch 20th September.  The Group has the power to select applicants from around the world for more than 77 positions dealing with country-specific and thematic human rights mandates.

Reports that the UK Government supported Saudi Arabia becoming part of the UNHRC are particularly disturbing - The Guardian 29th September.

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour Party Leader),

15 September, 2015

Nations using drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or "drones" are in use by several nations - The Five most deadly drone powers in the world.

In August 2015, a drone was used by (or on behalf of) the British government to kill a British citizen who was in Syria - BBC News 7th September.  Irrespective of the legality of that killing, there ought to be serious concern that this technology will spread into the hands of unfriendly regimes (including non-State actors) with obvious consequences.

It has recently been forecast that every country will have armed drones within 10 years

With regard to Targeted Killings conducted by the USA see Council on Foreign Relations 23rd May 2013

05 August, 2015

International Criminal Court

Anyone wishing to know something about the International Criminal Court should read their document Understanding the International Criminal Court (49 pp. pdf).

The court was established by the Rome Statute  which dates from 1998  but which entered into force on 1st July 2002.  The court has NO jurisdiction for events prior to that date.  The court is also a "last resort" and acts where national authorities are not acting to bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

Effect is given in the United Kingdom to the ICC by the International Criminal Court Act 2001

Watching the Law blog 4th September 2012 - Tutu and Blair: The International Criminal Court

29 July, 2015

Mandatory Death Penalty

Some States continue to mandate a death sentence for certain offences such as murder.

Oxford Human Rights Hub has published an article by barrister Joseph Middleton - The Mandatory Death Penalty and Narratives of the Common Law.

"An argument has evolved over decades, in India, the US, the Commonwealth Caribbean and most recently in Africa, that imposing the ultimate and irreversible penalty of death, without considering the particular circumstances of the offence and the offender, and without allowing any possibility for mitigation, is unconstitutional. It amounts to cruel and inhuman punishment and it violates the right to a fair trial, including the right to a fair sentence. It also violates the separation of powers, because by denying the courts any discretion on sentence, it deprives them of an essential judicial function, the imposition of an appropriate sentence for each offence."

The United Kingdom

04 February, 2015

Croatia v Serbia ~ International Court of Justice


The International Court of Justice has delivered judgment in the "Genocide" case of Croatia v Serbia.

Croatia contended that Serbia was responsible for breaches of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide committed in Croatia between 1991 and 1995. In its counter-claim, Serbia contended that Croatia was itself responsible for breaches of the Convention committed in 1995 in the “ Republika Srpska Krajina”, an entity established in late 1991.

It is a lengthy judgment (146 pages / 524 paragraphs) and reveals much of the horror of the conflict.  The court first decided (11 judges to 6) that its jurisdiction to entertain Croatia's claim extended to before 27th April 1992.  The court then decided (15 to 2) to reject Croatia's claim and unanimously dismissed Serbia's counter claim.

23 December, 2014

Powerful thoughts for today's world

Benjmain B. Ferencz - The Road to World Peace - 1986

"Since ancient times, every village, town, city and nation-state has come to recognize that a peaceful society requires: (1) laws, (2) courts, and (3) a system of effective law enforcement. To the extent these three conditions are met, there is relative tranquility; to the extent they are absent, there is turmoil."

The article is as valid today as when it was written.  “The Road to World Peace” is abbreviated from Dr. Ferencz’s book - A Common Sense Guide to World Peace.  Benjamin Ferencz served as a US Prosecutor at the Nuremburg war crimes trials and as director of post-war restitution procedures providing compensation to survivors of Nazi atrocities.  He is the author of the prize-winning book Less Than Slaves and was Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University.

18 December, 2014

Al-Sweady Inquiry Report


The Al-Sweady Inquiry - set up by the previous Labour government under the Chairmanship of Sir Thayne Forbes - has now reported.and the report was laid before Parliament on Wednesday 17 December 2014.   See The Report, Executive Summary and Chairman's Statement.

Previous post on this blog about the Inquiry.  The costs of the inquiry are set out on the Inquiry website and total £24,598,372 up to the end of November 2014.  That included £5,612,484 on counsel and legal services. 

The Executive Summary document extends to 95 pages. 

10 December, 2014

USA - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - CIA Detention and Interrogation Program

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released an important and refreshingly straightforward report- Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program - (pdf 525 pages).  The document reports the Executive Summary, Findings and Conclusions of a much larger report that remains classified though declassification may be considered later.  The report covers the period September 2001 to January 2009.

In the Foreword to the report,

17 November, 2014

Maryam Rajavi ~ Legal challenge to her exclusion from the UK failed

The Supreme Court of the UK has dismissed an appeal against the Home Secretary's exclusion from the UK of dissident Iranian politician Maryam Rajavi.  The majority justices were Lord Neuberger (President); Lady Hale (Deputy President); Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption.  Lord Kerr dissented.

In essence, the court's role was limited to examination of whether the Home Secretary had acted lawfully.  It was held that that was so.  There was no basis on which the court was able to substitute its own opinion for that of the constitutionally appointed decision-maker on this matter.

The full judgment is at R (Lord Carlile of Berriew QC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] UKSC 60 and an explanatory memorandum is available.

Please also see the Of Interest to Lawyers blog for a succinct summary of the case and a more detailed look at the case is at the UK Human Rights blog - HERE.