Human Rights


Autonomous Weapons Systems Under International Law

Erica H. Ma

Autonomous weapons systems (AWS) have been described as the “third revolution of warfare,” after gunpowder and nuclear weapons. Currently in development, these weapons systems are powered by advanced algorithms that can make decisions to target and use lethal force against enemy soldiers on their own, without human intervention. Countries around the world are eager to be the first to develop and capture the advantages of AWS, while scholars and activists have sounded the alarm on the legal and ethical issues of delegating the decision to kill an enemy soldier to algorithms. Described as the dehumanization of war, the unique nature of AWS highlights an unresolved international law issue of whether and how international humanitarian law and human rights law can operate concurrently in armed conflict. Specifically, AWS raise the question of whether international humanitarian law, specialized law that governs the armed conflicts in which AWS would be deployed, would be the sole body of international law that regulates AWS, or whether human rights law would also govern the use of AWS in armed conflict. This Note argues that: 1) Human rights law applies to the use of AWS and prevails over international humanitarian law where the two bodies of law conflict, and 2) AWS’ use of lethal force violates human rights law’s prohibition against arbitrary deprivations of life.

Supported Decision-Making in the Lone-Star State

Eliana J. Theodorou

“Supported decision-making,” an alternative to guardianship that allows an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability to retain his or her legal capacity and make decisions with the assistance of trusted supporters, has been gaining traction in the United States since the mid-2000s. Scholars have highlighted the significance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which entered into force in 2006, in explaining the recent rise in interest in supported decision-making across the world. CRPD Article 12 recognizes that people with disabilities are entitled to equal recognition of their legal capacity by states parties and requires states parties to provide the support that people with disabilities may need in exercising legal capacity. In 2015, Texas became the first state in the United States to pass legislation formally recognizing supported decision-making agreements as alternatives to guardianship. Attention to Texas’s experience suggests, however, that the CRPD may have limited salience in conservative state legislatures, and demonstrates that other forces are contributing to the appeal of supported decision-making in the United States today. Part I provides a brief overview of guardianship and supported decision-making, and discusses how supported decision-making has many features that are simultaneously appealing to actors within the disability rights movement and American political conservatives. Part I next discusses Texas’s initial interest in supported decision-making and its 2009 supported decision-making pilot project. Part II identifies two issues that put guardianship in general on Texas legislators’ agendas in the years leading up to the passage of supported decision-making legislation: the issue of guardianship abuse and concerns about the impact of the aging of the population on probate courts. Part III explains how advocates organized to draft and pass supported decision-making legislation and other guardianship reform bills. Section A provides an overview of the legislation ultimately passed; Section B focuses on the organization of the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Workgroup (GRSDM) and its community-organizing style of work; Section C explores how GRSDM won the support of key, influential stakeholders; and Section D shows how different actors used different narratives to promote sup- ported decision-making, with some emphasizing self-determination, while others emphasized efficiency and cost savings. Part IV discusses lessons that can be applied in other states and Texas’s implementation efforts so far.

Three Angry Men: Juries in International Criminal Adjudication

Amy Powell

To date, no international criminal tribunal has seriously considered using a jury trial. In the International Criminal Court (ICC), for example, a panel of judges appointed by the Assembly of States Parties acts as the fact finder. In this Note, Amy Powell examines the theoretical justifications for a jury in the context of international criminal adjudication. She concludes that the use of a jury–or, at a minimum, the integration of the important values underpinning the institution of the jury–would greatly benefit the ICC by protecting important principles of justice.

Binding Corporations to Human Rights Norms Through Public Law Settlement

Benjamin C. Fishman

Recent settlements in the United States and France of human rights litigations against oil companies Unocal and Total have made it clear that litigation is a viable tool for holding companies to account for their involvement in human rights abuses abroad. This Note argues, however, that the Unocal and Total settlements inadequately reflect the public importance of the cases, which sought to force Unocalnamely, the prospective intervention in ongoing situations of injustice and the articulation of public norms. Instead, by channeling much of the settlement funds into community development projects unrelated to the human rights abuses, and by failing to demand any fundamental changes in the defendant companies’ conduct, the settlements replicate a pernicious element of contemporary “corporate social responsibility” efforts: the characterization of good corporate behavior as a matter of charity rather than as a matter of right.

This Note argues that future settlements of human rights cases against corporations can—perhaps more effectively than fully litigated cases—better reflect the promise of public law litigation by setting up legally binding systems to monitor corporate conduct. Such systems could effectively prevent the type of human rights-threatening behavior transnational corporations are most likely to commit. Furthermore, such monitoring systems would be norm-producing, insofar as they would continually elucidate how corporations threaten human rights, and would generate an evolving repertoire of ways to address such threats. In so doing, monitoring systems could serve as bases for NGOs’ international human rights campaigns and as models for replication outside of the litigation context, thus further disseminating norms of appropriate corporate conduct.

Providing Effective Remedies to Victims of Abuse by Peacekeeping Personnel

Catherine E. Sweetser

This Note argues for a compensation mechanism in cases where United Nations peacekeepers have violated the rights of those whom they should be protecting, focusing in particular on cases of sexual abuse. In light of the current absence of clear mechanisms for accountability, the United Nations must take action to compensate victims in order to preserve its organizational immunity and its discretion in waiving the immunity of peacekeepers. This Note examines the current legal regime and current responses by the United Nations, reviews the pressing need for greater victim compensation, and evaluates theories of employer liability and state responsibility as they apply in the peacekeeping context. It concludes that current international law supports a compensation mechanism that is normatively (if not legally) required.

Using Structural Interdicts and the South African Human Rights Commission to Achieve Judicial Enforcement of Economic and Social Rights in South Africa

Mitra Ebadolahi

In 1996, South Africa’s transformative Constitution inspired human rights activists worldwide by incorporating justiciable economic and social rights (ESRs), including rights to housing, health care, food, water, social security, and basic education. Yet over the past twelve years, problems related to separation of powers considerations, vagueness concerns, and enforcement costs have impeded the South African judiciary’s efforts to enforce these crucial rights meaningfully. After surveying these obstacles, this Note offers a two-step proposal for change: increased use of the structural interdict remedy and an enhanced, collaborative role for the South African Human Rights Commission. Used in tandem, these measures can improve judicial enforcement of ESRs in South Africa—and perhaps set a concrete example for the rest of the world.

Rethinking “Effective Remedies”: Remedial Deterrence in International Courts

Sonja B. Starr

One of the bedrock principles of contemporary international law is that victims of human rights violations have a right to an “effective remedy.” International courts usually hold that effective remedies must at least make the victim whole, and they sometimes adopt even stronger remedial rules for particular categories of human rights violations. Moreover, courts have refused to permit departure from these rules on the basis of competing social interests. Human rights scholars have not questioned this approach, frequently pushing for even stronger judicial remedies for rights violations. Yet in many cases, strong and inflexible remedial rules can perversely undermine human rights enforcement. Institutional constraints often make it impractical or highly costly for international courts to issue remedies for the violations they recognize. Inflexible remedial rules raise the collateral costs of providing remedies and often drive courts to circumvent those costs by narrowing their substantive interpretations of rights, raising the prejudice threshold required to trigger a remedy or erecting procedural hurdles that allow them to avoid considering the claim at all. This Article illustrates these “remedial deterrence” effects primarily with examples from the procedural rights case law of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia—two courts that face particularly stark remedial costs. It then argues that similar dynamics are likely at other international courts, though their degree, form, and consequences will vary based on each court’s particular objectives and constraints.

Although some degree of remedial deterrence is inevitable and legitimate, extreme remedial-cost pressures—like those often present in international criminal proceedings—result in severe doctrinal distortions that subvert the purpose of international courts’ strong remedial rules. Because victims cannot be granted lesser remedies, they often receive no remedy at all. This overkill effect is magnified because the doctrinal distortions spill over to other cases lacking similar remedial costs and to domestic courts and other actors that follow international judicial precedent, even though they do not share the same institutional constraints. To mitigate these consequences, this Article makes two sets of recommendations. First, international courts’ structures and procedures should be designed to avoid excessive remedial deterrence pressures. This Article offers specific proposals for international criminal tribunals. Second, international courts should modify their approach to the effective remedy requirement, allowing some degree of equitable balancing of interests. Such an approach would promote judicial candor and enable courts to avoid untenable remedial costs without unduly distorting other doctrines.

Reining in Non-State Actors: State Responsibility and Attribution in Cases of Genocide

Berglind Halldórsdóttir Birkland

In 2007, the International Court of Justice defined the scope of state responsibility under the Genocide Convention for the very first time when it reached the merits in the Genocide Case, a case arising from the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The opinion immediately spurred extensive academic commentary, much of which was critical of the Court’s ultimate holding that Serbia had not committed genocide despite its well-documented role in the Srebrenica massacre. While the Genocide Case can be read as a disappointment, and the Court’s analysis is vulnerable to normative critique, this Note argues that it was nonetheless an important victory in the movement toward greater state accountability for genocide, especially considering the context in which the Court acts and the limitations imposed on its independence by the practical need for legitimacy. Although the Court raised onerous evidentiary hurdles for establishing state responsibility for the direct commission of genocide, it managed simultaneously to impose upon states a clear duty to rein in non-state actors over whom they exercise influence by interpreting the state obligation to prevent genocide broadly. This broad duty to rein in non-state actors has important implications not only for the Court’s own jurisprudence but also extrajudiciously within the customary framework of state responsibility, by empowering the general international community to enforce states’ obligations to curb genocidal actors within their reach.

New Dirty War Judgments in Argentina: National Courts and Domestic Prosecutions of International Human Rights Violations

Margarita K. O’Donnell

A new approach to national interpretations of international law suggests that, to be successful, national courts must engage in flexible, culturally conscious translations of international norms. Transitional justice projects, however, pose a challenge to this approach. This Note proposes that when criminal prosecutions function as truth-seeking processes, the ability of domestic groups to influence how national courts interpret international law is heightened. In these instances, nonstate actors understandably attempt to capitalize on courts’ awareness of the critical role legal judgments play in engendering national reconciliation in order to secure favorable legal outcomes. Accordingly, courts have the challenge of adjudicating egregious human rights violations while also complying with the strict limitations of international criminal law. This Note suggests that the exigencies of transitional justice may lead national courts to issue interpretations that deviate from the existing body of international law. It examines this thesis through the lens of recent criminal prosecutions in Argentina for massive human rights violations during the Dirty War, in which a federal court greatly expanded the legal definition of genocide, contradicting long-standing international jurisprudence.

The New Poor at Our Gates: Global Justice Implications for International Trade and Tax Law

Ilan Benshalom

This Article explains why international trade and tax arrangements should advance global wealth redistribution in a world of enhanced economic integration. Despite the indisputable importance of global poverty and inequality, contemporary political philosophy stagnates in the attempt to determine whether distributive justice obligations should extend beyond the political framework of the nation-state. This results from the difficulty of reconciling liberal impartiality with notions of state sovereignty and accountability. This Article offers an alternative approach that bypasses the controversy of the current debate. It argues that international trade creates “relational-distributive” duties when domestic parties engage in transactions with foreign parties that suffer from an endowed vulnerability, such as the extreme poverty prevalent in the developing world. These relational duties differ from “traditional” distributive justice claims because they rely on actual economic relationships rather than hypothetical social-contract scenarios. In a competitive market, however, private parties cannot address these relational-distributive duties by themselves because doing so would put them at a competitive disadvantage. This Article therefore argues that the only collective action solution to this systemic problem in the current geopolitical setting is the transfer of wealth among states.

This Article then suggests some policy implications of this normative analysis in the field of international tax law. It points out that the allocation of taxing rights is a form of wealth allocation that divides globalization’s revenue proceeds among nations. As such, tax allocation arrangements should help “correct” international trade relationships that fail to meet relational-distributive standards. This discussion stresses a point frequently neglected in both the tax and political philosophy literature: Real-world attempts to promote a more just distribution of global wealth could benefit greatly from the integration of distributive considerations and tax allocation arrangements.