Elizabeth Wilmshurst

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The logo of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in January 2024 (Photo by REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

The new UK government features a number of lawyers with strong credentials in international law. Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer has a record of defending human rights in UK courts and has argued a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Attorney General Richard Hermer has come straight from the bar, where his practice included significant international law cases and human rights. Foreign Secretary David Lammy, also a lawyer, though espousing ‘ progressive realism’ in UK foreign policy, has included standing up for the rule of law as one of the aims for the country.

So, it is to be expected that the new government will recognize the importance of international law in its relations with other governments, be committed to international standards for upholding the rights of individuals, and understand the value of international law as part of a long term, strategic foreign policy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) with US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the Ukraine crisis. Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images.

Russia has begun a large-scale military attack on Ukraine, having first declared it recognizes Donetsk and Luhansk as separate states. It scarcely needs saying Russia is violating international law – violating the prohibition in the United Nations (UN) Charter on the use of force, violating the obligation to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states, and violating the prohibition on intervention.

But Russia is using the language of the law to defend its actions. In all the recent verbiage of President Vladimir Putin, some attempts at legal arguments can be elicited – but they do not stand up to scrutiny.…  Seguir leyendo »

A British soldier mans his gun while patrolling near the port of Umm Qasr south of Basra, Iraq in August 2004. Photo: Getty Images.

The aim of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill to end ‘the cycle of reinvestigation of historic events’ is understandable. This is a problem which needs addressing.

But the Bill’s proposed solution of introducing a ‘presumption against prosecution’ of crimes by British service men and women after five years - unless a case is deemed ‘exceptional’ – is not the way to fix it. The effect of this presumption could put the UK in breach of its existing obligations to bring to justice any persons alleged to have committed serious international crimes.

The Geneva Conventions require the UK to bring before the courts all cases where there is sufficient evidence of the most serious war crimes - such as willful killing and torture - not just exceptional cases.…  Seguir leyendo »

Laurent Gbagbo looks on next to his lawyer Emmanuel Altit before the start of his trial at the ICC on 28 January 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

The 1998 treaty which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted at a time when the world (or most of it) was willing to reach multilateral agreements on a variety of topics and was encouraging the development of international criminal justice. The two tribunals, set up by the UN Security Council, for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda had been relatively successful. The time was ripe for states to agree together to set up a permanent international court with wider scope than the two tribunals.

So the ICC was created, with jurisdiction over the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; its jurisdiction for the crime of aggression developed later.…  Seguir leyendo »