Friday, February 18, 2011

Dresden 1945 : an Allied War Crime?

Last week, an estimated seventeen thousand people in Dresden formed a human chain to commemorate the aerial bombing of the German city in World War II. Deputy Mayor Detlef Sittel said that Dresden remembered its victims and called to mind the days “when Warswaw, Rotterdam and Coventry were laid in ruins by German bombers”. Elsewhere in the city hundreds of neo-Nazis tried to hold a protest march, stating that Germany is not to blame for the war and accusing the Allies of war crimes. Where a demonstration last year was thwarted by anti-fascists, this time the extreme right had been granted a license to hold the protest march. Police from all over Germany, came to Dresden to keep the peace in the city.

The Aerial Bombing of Dresden

Between 13 February and 15 February 1945, British and American bombers laid the historical center of Dresden in the ashes. In four raids, the bombers dropped as much as 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices. A devastating firestorm followed, destroying almost 39 square kilometres of the city.

In the first few decades after the war, some death toll estimates were as high as 250,000, which are now considered unreasonable. Estimates of casualties, mostly civilians, vary somewhat, but the figure of 25,000 dead and 30,000 injured is more likely. An independent investigation commissioned by the city council of Dresden in 2010 reported a minimum of 22,700 victims with a maximum total number of fatalities of 25,000. These high numbers are partly caused by the fact that the city was flooded with refugees from the outlying regions, desperately trying to escape the oncoming Russian army from the East.

In comparison with other German cities, the bombing raids over Dresden were not the most severe of World War II. However, they continue to be recognised as one of the worst examples of civilian suffering caused by strategic bombing. Post-war debates concentrate on the question as to whether or not the bombing was justified, and whether its outcome constituted a war crime.

An Allied War Crime ?

Since 1945, the bombing of Dresden is considered by many as a violation of international law and as a crime against humanity, even though positive rules of international humanitarian law were absent at the time. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of international law. However these conventions, adressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts (→ The Hague Rules of Air Warefare 1922/1923) to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not done before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws.
The aerial bombardment of Dresden does not only raise the question as to whether or not it was an Allied war crime, but it also makes a moral appeal to prevent total war against civilian populations. It's memory is kept alive.

PPL Classification Scheme

Air Warfare : General Works
Crimes against International Law
Sea Warfare : Bombardments by Naval Forces
War Crimes

Warfare on Land : Sieges and Bombardments
World War II : General Works and Various Essays

PPL Keywords

Air Bombardments
Air Warfare
World War II

PPL Books and Articles

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Climate Change and Human Rights

On Friday 11 February 2011, the Dutch Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (NJCM), ICCO and Stand Up For Your Rights together organized a seminar on Climate Change and Human Rights. It took place at ICCO Headquarters in Utrecht, Netherlands. Below follows a brief impression of the seminar.

The seminar was concerned with the “human side” of climate change. The global response to climate change, negotiated at the climate summit in Copenhagen and the follow-up meeting in Cancún, is generally considered as not good enough. As the negotiations continue, large groups of people have to deal with the consequences and risks of climate change on a daily basis. Climate change directly affects the enjoyment of their fundamental rights, such as the right to life, water, food, health and property.

What is the added benefit of a human rights approach to climate change? What exactly are the rights holders, and, more importantly, who are the duty bearers? And what exactly are their responsibilities? These and other questions were the focus of the seminar "Climate Change and Human Rights. One year after Copenhagen, one month after Cancun: The Human Side of Climate Change ".

The keynote speaker was prof. Ruud Lubbers, currently a Minister of State of the Netherlands. He served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1982 and 1994. Between 2001 and 2005, he was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Other speakers were:

Prof. Lubbers reflected on the relationship between human rights and climate change. He talked about the rights-tradition, starting with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He then explained how climate change and pollution became an issue, already in the seventies, and how the two have since come closer together.

Gert de Gans spoke about the CO2-footprint and the rights of the poor. He briefly introduced ICCO's Fair Climate Programme. He showed how (people in) developed nations can buy emission rights from developing nations, and how this money - and other voluntary contributions - can be invested in small projects in developing countries. NGO’s could serve as the “middle-man” in these transactions.

Subsequently, there were three workshops: the first was about women and children (this group was chaired by Sylvia Borren and Dr. Annelies Henstra); the second about indigenous peoples (Dr. Gerard Persoon and Leo van der Vlist), and the third about climate refugees (chaired by Isabelle Swerissen). In the last workgroup, the focus was on the legal definition of ‘refugee’, as used in the Refugee Convention. The big question was whether people crossing borders because of climate related incidents (natural disasters) could be defined as ‘refugees’ in the restricted, legal sense. The conclusion was that they could not. The potential consequences of including ‘climate refugees’ in the reach of the legal definition of ‘refugee’ was also discussed. (Political) refugees have a right to leave their country, but they are not entitled to be welcomed in another. At the same time, if a refugee manages to enter another country, he or she cannot be obliged to return to his homeland if he or she is likely to face prosecution and torture there. It was suggested that a similar way of reasoning could apply to climate refugees: that if the situation at home was life-threatening, it should not be permissible to send them home.

Then followed a final plenary session, in which the causal relationship between CO2-emissions and natural disasters was hotly disputed. The question of duty-bearers was also discussed. It is perhaps too easy to point to a select group of people and blame them for climate change, and to see the rest of the world as victims. In a way, all individuals contribute, and all individuals suffer from the consequences.

Jan van de Venis ended the day with a passionate speech about the human side of climate change. He stressed the responsibilities of the present generation to take action and build a better future today.

A Cyberian Crossroad

A Cyberian Crossroad

This is the age of the digital battlefield. Theoretically everybody can attack anybody and anything, anytime and anywhere in the world. All you need is access to the Internet.
No more soldiers on bloody battlefields but virtual fighters in computer-programs

The Internet offers opportunities for good and bad purposes. Recent developments have shown their influence on the outcome of political events, as in Egypt, and their effects on the national security of nations, as in Estonia. It can help to further democracy and expel dictators, it can also provoke a war, when states retaliate, if attacked by cybermolest.

The law needs to adapt to cyber warfare.

Several authors have elaborated on various aspects of this theme. For instance:
- An e-SOS for Cyberspace attacks based on the SOS signal at sea might be helpful for the victims of cyber-attacks. A proposal for states to adopt a duty to assist victims of the most severe cyberthreats.
- An Internet War Crimes Tribunal to create positive international rules regulating Internet conduct.
- Cyber-attacks and the use of force
- A digital Geneva Convention.

If we do not succeed in regulating the Internet, network controllers will rule the world, and at the same time regulating the Internet might imply violation of a human right to Internet access. It is a matter of security versus liberty, a classical diabolical dilemma.

Peace Palace Library keywords:

Relevant Articles:

Hollis, D.B., An e-SOS for Cyberspace, 52 (2011) Harvard International law Journal

Roscini, M., Wide Warfare – Jus ad Bellum and the Use of Cyber force, 14 Max Planck Year Book of United Nations Law (2010), forthcoming

Shackelford, S.J., From Nuclear War to Net War: Analogizing Cyber attacks in International Law, 27 (2009) Berkeley Journal of International Law 192-251

Stevens, S.R., Internet War Crimes Tribunals and Security in an Interconnected World, 18 Transnational Law and contemporary problems (2009), 657-720

Waxman, M.C., Cyber-attacks and the Use of Force : back to the Future of Art. 2(4), Forthcoming Yale Journal of International Law 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Enters Into Force

On Saturday, 5 February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged the documents of ratification at the Munich Conference on Security Policy with which a new treaty on strategic arms reduction (New START [PDF]) entered into force.

The new treaty replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed in July 1991 by US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in the largest bilateral reduction of nuclear weapons in history. START I expired in December 2009. Its successor, which regulates strategic nuclear arms reductions for the coming ten years, requires both nations to further reduce their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads and launch vehicles. The new treaty also replaces the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).

The New START treaty was signed by the Russian and US presidents in Prague in April 2010 after nearly a year of protracted negotiations over issues like data sharing, verifying compliance and limiting missile defense programs and went on far longer than originally expected. The treaty was ratified by the US Senate after months of wrangling in December and by the Russian parliament in January.

Under the new treaty the limit on deployed strategic nuclear warheads will be lowered from 2200 under the 2002 SORT (also called Moscow Treaty) to a maximum of 1550 for each side within seven years from the date the treaty enters into force. This represents a further reduction of 30 percent from the current limit set in the Moscow Treaty. The limit on deployed and non-deployed nuclear warhead delivery systems (missile launchers, nuclear submarines and heavy bombers) will be reduced to a maximum of 800. The treaty also establishes a new inspection and verification regime that will be more restrictive than its predecessor in the 1991 treaty.

Arms control proponents consider the reductions in the new treaty to be a modest achievement and start towards President Obama’s goal of a “world without nuclear weapons.” However, the New START treaty marks a considerable improvement in Russian-US relations over the last three years after reaching a low point with the Russian military intervention in Georgia in 2008 and possibly opens the door for further progress on nuclear disarmament in the near future. The US government indicated that it wants to continue talks on further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads as well as elimination of part of the thousands of strategic warheads in storage, and the thousands more tactical nuclear weapons that both nations have. At the present stage the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US account for more than ninety percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is Sudan set for a divorce?

Sudan has a history of protracted conflict between the predominately Muslim north and the largely Christian south. On 9-15 January 2011, the citizens of Southern Sudan took part in a referendum to determine if they wish to become an independent state. Although South Sudan has been an autonomous region since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the result of this referendum could end up splitting Africa's largest country into two separate states and have impacts that transcend the region.

Essentially the Southern Sudanese people didn’t want to be governed by a Northern Muslim state whom they worried wouldn’t put their interests first. What proceeded was a civil war from 1955-1972. While a brief peace was agreed, the majority of South Sudanese continued to feel the northern government failed to adequately consider their rights and many in the South continued to oppose the national Sharia Law. In 1983 a second civil war broke out. In 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, between the President Omar al-Bashir’s government and the southern secular Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), to bring an end to the two decade civil war between the North and South of Sudan in which more than two million people died.
The CPA included the provision for the South to carry out a referendum on whether it wanted to secede from the north. According to the terms of the CPA, the central government of Sudan and the South Sudanese government agreed that the turnout of at least 60% of 3.8 million voters would be necessary to validate the referendum.
In this case, a simple majority vote in favour of independence will result in secession for South Sudan. According to the SPLM the 60% threshold has already been achieved. President Omar al-Bashir has said he will accept the result of the vote.

Southern Sudan's referendum is only the next step in the process which may bring about the creation of a new state. There are a number of practical issues that would need to be resolved. Prior to the referendum, the CPA had made provisions to negotiate a number of issues that would be important post-referendum. However in the period leading up to the referendum, it became apparent that a number of these issues would remain unresolved before the referendum date. Rather than continually delaying the referendum, and so testing the shaky peace, the referendum was pushed through despite key issues not being addressed.
One of the issues included debt sharing; the Sudanese government currently has a nearly $38 billion sovereign debt. According to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir offered to take on all of the country's debt if the south declares independence after a referendum.
According to One International more unresolved matters will be extremely important if the South, as expected, chooses to secede from the North:

1. Border demarcation, specifically the Abyei region. Even in Sudan’s colonial times when the British governed the north and south as two separate states, the North-South border has never been clearly defined. Seemingly without consideration the border region dissects water basins, differing tribal areas and even oil reserves . For nomads who migrate between north and south depending on their farming patterns, the refusal of President Omar al-Bashir to offer dual citizenship means any border demarcation could become seriously contentious. Especially if any border enforcement seriously disrupts the nomad’s normal livelihood patterns. One area of particular contention along the border is the oil rich Abyei region in the centre of the country. Both the North and South perceive the area as part of their respective districts.

2. Oil revenue sharing: Two of Sudan’s largest oil fields straddle the North-South border. Although current CPA agreements split tax revenues from the oil and gas exploitation 50:50, it is not clear if this arrangement will continue. These oil and gas revenues are critically important to both countries. Currently 98% of government revenue in the South, and 50% of the Northern government revenue, is derived from this oil’s taxation revenues. More than two thirds of the oil fields are located south of the North-South border, to some this may initially suggest that Southern Sudan has more rights over the oil as more of it will be located in their country, but in reality the issue is more complicated than that. This issue is further complicated by the fact that Northern Sudan holds the vast majority of infrastructure which is needed to export the oil from South Sudan. If the South wishes to continue to receive oil and gas tax revenues, they will remain dependent upon the North. This is an important reason why the North and the South need to maintain peaceful relations. Both will want to continue receiving the financial revenues from the oil extraction.

As said, important and complicated issues to be discussed and solved. First, we will have to await the definite outcome of the referendum, to be announced on 7 February 2011. According to a website published by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, 99% of the southerners have opted for independence from the north.

Publications in the Peace Palace catalogue:
On South Sudan
On Sudan and civil wars