John B. Bellinger III

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The escalating death toll in Syria, which exceeds 60,000, has increased pressure on President Obama to do more to help the Syrian opposition. But traditional legal rules that protect international peace and security constrain the president’s options. Although the administration recognized the Syrian Opposition Council last month as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” that announcement created no new legal basis for Washington to give weapons to Syrian rebels or to intervene with military force against the Assad government. If Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities continue, Obama will find it difficult to provide more U.S. assistance consistent with international law.

The U.N.…  Seguir leyendo »

For more than a decade, dozens of multinational corporations have been sued in federal courts in the United States for alleged human rights violations under the so-called Alien Tort Statute. Now these suits may be over.

In August, a U.S. appellate court ruled that corporations may not be held liable for violations of international law. The decision by the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals will be welcomed by multinationals as well as by many foreign governments, who have protested that U.S. assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction over the non-U.S. activities of foreign corporations itself violates international law.

Although the court’s decision is at present binding only in the New York region, it may be the death knell for most human rights litigation against multinational companies in U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Kenya last week that it is a "great regret" that the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, the international tribunal established in The Hague to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The Bush administration was vilified by the international community and by human rights groups for a perceived hostility toward the court during its first term, but U.S. reservations about the ICC predated President George W. Bush and are likely to continue under President Obama. Although the Obama administration will undoubtedly make greater efforts to engage with the court, the United States is unlikely to join the ICC anytime soon.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the Arctic ice melting, anticipated increases in Arctic shipping, tourism and economic activity, and Russia’s flag-planting at the North Pole last summer, there has been much talk in the press about a “race to the Arctic” and even some calls for a new treaty to govern the “lawless” Arctic region.

We should all cool down. While there may be a need to expand cooperation in some areas, like search and rescue, there is already an extensive legal framework governing the region. The five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean — the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia — have made clear their commitment to observe these international legal rules.…  Seguir leyendo »