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Understanding the Jus Cogens Debate: The Pervasive Influence of Legal Positivism and Legal Idealism

Part of the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law book series (NYIL,volume 46)

Abstract

Although, today, jus cogens is a recognized element of international law and international legal discourse alike, many issues of vital importance to a well-functioning jus cogens regime remain unsettled. The current debate centres on the following six questions: (1) What is the source of jus cogens obligations? (2) What is the role of consent in the creation and modification of jus cogens norms? (3) How do we identify norms belonging to this category? (4) What does the category comprise? Are there such things, for example, as regional jus cogens or jus cogens principles? Are jus cogens rules necessarily rules of conduct? (5) What are the function and effects of the international jus cogens regime? (6) What is the function of jus cogens in international legal discourse? Overall, the intense scholarly debate had on peremptory international law over the last ten to twenty years has not been terribly productive. One important reason for this would seem to be the general failure of discussants to fully understand the relevance of some basic assumptions that they bring to bear on their respective analysis and consideration of the topic. To facilitate future constructive debate, this essay aims to clarify the relevance for any thoughtful consideration of jus cogens issues of legal positivism and legal idealism. While legal positivism and legal idealism are sets of theories offered to explain the concept of law, it is not surprising that lawyers of different camps will have different answers to questions (1) and (2). As argued in this essay, however, the influence of different theoretical approaches to the concept of law goes further than this—it permeates the entire jus cogens debate. Consequently, depending on whether lawyers take the position of a legal positivist or a legal idealist, they will be inclined to answer differently all questions (1)–(6).

Keywords

  • Jus cogens
  • Peremptory international law
  • Legal positivism
  • Legal idealism
  • International legal discourse

Ulf Linderfalk is Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Lund University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Nordic Journal of International Law. Special thanks go to Eduardo Gill-Pedro, a great pal and a highly appreciated discussion partner.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1155 UNTS 331; 1986 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States and International Organisations or between International Organisations, UN Doc. A/CONF.129/15, 21 March 1986. The two articles are perfectly identical.

  2. 2.

    The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, known for generally taking a progressive stance to the idea of peremptory international law, adds several further candidates to the list, such as for example the prohibitions of slavery, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, inhuman treatment, and discrimination. Compare with Alvarez-Rio and Contreras-Garduno 2014, at 167 ff.

  3. 3.

    See, e.g., Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v United States), ICJ, Merits, Judgment of 27 June 1986, para 190.

  4. 4.

    See, e.g., Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v Serbia), ICJ, Merits, Judgment of 3 February 2015, para 87.

  5. 5.

    Case Concerning Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v Italy; Greece intervening), ICJ, Judgment of 3 February, para 95.

  6. 6.

    See, e.g., Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v Senegal), ICJ, Judgment of 20 July 2012, para 99.

  7. 7.

    Case Concerning Jurisdictional Immunities of the State, para 95.

  8. 8.

    Ibid.

  9. 9.

    Compare with Crawford 2012, at 596. ‘More authority exists for the concept of peremptory norms than for its particular consequences.’ Similarly, Tams 2005, at 142–143.

  10. 10.

    Prosecutor v Furundžija, Trial Chamber, Judgment, Case No. IT-95-17/1-T, 10 December 1998, paras 144 and 153–157.

  11. 11.

    Articles 26, 40 and 50 of the Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. International Law Commission, Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, 53rd session of the ILC, UNGA Res 56/83, 12 December 2001. See also Principle 4.4.3 of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties. International Law Commission, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, 63rd session of the ILC, UN Doc. A/66/10, 2011, para 75).

  12. 12.

    See, e.g., monographs and articles cited throughout this essay.

  13. 13.

    See, e.g., Ruiz Fabri 2012, at 1051. ‘[T]he only traceable positive outcome that may be seen is that of naming norms.’

  14. 14.

    See, e.g., Orakhelashvili 2006, at 320–359; Espósito 2011, at 61–174; Zimmermann 19941995, at 433–440; Bartsch and Elberling 2003, at 477–491; Talmon 2012, at 979–1002; Orakhelashvili 2013, at 89–103.

  15. 15.

    Compare with Case Concerning Jurisdictional Immunities of the State.

  16. 16.

    Ibid., paras 93–94.

  17. 17.

    Compare with Linderfalk 2013b.

  18. 18.

    See, e.g., Green 2009.

  19. 19.

    Ibid.

  20. 20.

    Ibid.

  21. 21.

    See, e.g., Coyle 2006, at 257–288.

  22. 22.

    Taekema and van der Burg 2009.

  23. 23.

    Ibid.

  24. 24.

    Ibid.

  25. 25.

    See, e.g., ibid; Coyle 2006.

  26. 26.

    On the concept of rational reconstruction, see, e.g., Bankowski et al. 1991, at 18 ff.

  27. 27.

    This seems to be assumed by many commentators more or less as a matter of course. See, e.g., de Schutter 2010, at 61.

  28. 28.

    Compare with Linderfalk 2013c, at 373–375.

  29. 29.

    See Sect. 3.1.

  30. 30.

    Linderfalk 2013c, at 374.

  31. 31.

    Compare with Article 53 VCLT.

  32. 32.

    Compare with Principle 4.4.3 of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties.

  33. 33.

    See, e.g., Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro), ICJ, Further Requests for the Indications of Provisional Measures, Order of 8 April 1993, Separate Opinion of Judge Lauterpacht, at 440.

  34. 34.

    See, e.g., Orakhelashvili 2006, at 218–223, and the further references cited there.

  35. 35.

    Linderfalk 2013c, at 375. For reasons that will be come apparent from subsequent sections of this essay, I will refrain from designating these rules ‘second order rules of jus cogens’. I regret having used this term in my earlier writing. See, e.g., Linderfalk 2011, at 359–378.

  36. 36.

    Linderfalk 2011.

  37. 37.

    Compare with Criddle and Fox-Decent 2009, at 338. The flawed assumption that it does has led commentators to suggest that Article 53 of the Vienna Conventions is circular. See, e.g., Dubois 2009, at 155; Christenson 19871988, at 594; Rozakis 1976, at 45; International Law Commission, Fragmentation of international law: difficulties arising from the diversification and expansion of international law, Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, 58th session, UN Doc. A/CN.4/L.682, 13 April 2006, para 375.

  38. 38.

    For further references and substantial arguments supporting this proposition, see Linderfalk 2013c, at 378–380.

  39. 39.

    See, e.g., Allain 2002, at 538.

  40. 40.

    See, e.g., Dubois 2009, at 155.

  41. 41.

    See, e.g., Orakhelashvili 2006, Chap. 1.

  42. 42.

    See, e.g., Delbrück 1998, at 35.

  43. 43.

    See, e.g., Gattini 2005, at 234.

  44. 44.

    See, e.g., Allen 2004, at 346.

  45. 45.

    Compare with Christopher 19992000, at 1233.

  46. 46.

    Al-Adsani v. United Kingdom, ECtHR, No. 35763/97, 21 November 2001, Joint dissenting opinion of Judges Rozakis and Caflisch, Joined by Judges Wildhaber, Costa, Cabral Barreto, and Vajić, para 2.

  47. 47.

    J. Dugard, Special Rapporteur, First report on diplomatic protection, 52nd session of the ILC, UN Doc. A/CN.4/506, 2000, para 89.

  48. 48.

    Sellers 2002, at 293.

  49. 49.

    Shaw 2014, at 89.

  50. 50.

    Zemanek 2011, at 383.

  51. 51.

    See, e.g., Brudner 1985, at 249.

  52. 52.

    Tomuschat 1993, at 307.

  53. 53.

    Roach and Pinkerton, IACommHR, Case 9647, Res. 3/87, 22 September 1987, paras 55–56.

  54. 54.

    Ibid.

  55. 55.

    Blake v. Guatemala, IACtHR, Merits, 24 January 1998, Separate Opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade, para 24.

  56. 56.

    Tomuschat 1993, at 307.

  57. 57.

    Compare the oft-made distinction between material and formal sources of law. See, e.g., Jennings and Watts 1992, at 23.

  58. 58.

    Hence, from a legal idealist’s perspective, the following statement by Alexander Orakhelashvili is not necessarily as difficult to accept as it would be for legal positivists: ‘[T]he question to which sources peremptory norms belong is not crucial from conceptual and practical perspectives as the peremptory character of a norm can be proved without proving the specific source.’ Orakhelashvili 2006, at 105.

  59. 59.

    See, respectively, Brudner 1985, at 249; Sellers 2002, at 290; Charlesworth and Chinkin 2006, at 90–91; Salcedo 1997, at 588.

  60. 60.

    See, e.g., O’Connell 2011, at 1044.

  61. 61.

    Tams 2005, at 152. This may explain why norms such as pacta sunt servanda, good faith, and the sovereign equality of states are sometimes said to have the status of jus cogens. Ibid.

  62. 62.

    Lowe 2007, at 59.

  63. 63.

    O’Connell 2011, at 1042.

  64. 64.

    Allain 2002, at 535.

  65. 65.

    Jurisdictional Immunities of the State, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade, para 288.

  66. 66.

    See, e.g., Mitchell 2005, at 231. See, similarly, Ford 19941995, at 148; de Schutter 2010, at 64.

  67. 67.

    On this idea, see, e.g., George 1999, at 235.

  68. 68.

    See, e.g., the statements made at the first session of the 1968–69 Vienna Conference on the Law of Treaties, by the delegates of Mexico and the Ivory Coast. United Nations Conference on the Law of Treaties, Summary records of the plenary meetings and of the meetings of the Committee of the Whole, 1st session, 1968, at 294 and 320–321, respectively. See, similarly, Ibler 2007, at 749.

  69. 69.

    Condition and Rights of Undocumented Migrants, IACTHR, Advisory Opinion, OC-18/03, 17 September 2003, paras 99–100.

  70. 70.

    See, e.g., Byers 1997, at 224 and the further references cited there.

  71. 71.

    Ibid.

  72. 72.

    O’Connell 2011, at 1044.

  73. 73.

    Onuf and Birney 1974, at 189.

  74. 74.

    de Visscher 1971, at 9, as cited by Danilenko 1991, at 44.

  75. 75.

    Ford 19941995, at 162. Compare with Roach and Pinkerton, para 55. ‘The rule prohibiting genocide … achieves the status of jus cogens precisely because it is the kind of rule that it would shock the conscience of mankind and the standards of public morality for a State to protest.’

  76. 76.

    Compare with Lachenmann 2012, at 790–792.

  77. 77.

    See, e.g., Fisheries Case (United Kingdom v Norway), ICJ, Judgment of 18 December 1951, at 138–139.

  78. 78.

    See, e.g., Byers 1997, at 217; Dubois 2009, at 137; Hannikainen 1988, at 240–241; Orakhelashvili 2006, at 114; Ragazzi 1997, at 67–72; Rozakis 1976, at 78; Schmalenbach 2012, at 921–923.

  79. 79.

    Compare with Linderfalk 2013c.

  80. 80.

    Symptomatically, Mary Ellen O’Connell, who is an outspoken naturalist, bluntly remarks: ‘Jus cogens norms … do not depend on consent.’ O’Connell 2011, at 1045. See similarly, Orakhelashvili 2005, at 241. ‘Norms are peremptory because of the values they protect. Such substantive value must be the value which is not at the disposal of individual States.’ (All footnotes are omitted.).

  81. 81.

    Compare with Lowe 2007, at 58. ‘This is not strictly an exception to the requirement of consent, because logically necessary rules do not ‘arise’; they have always been necessarily implicit in the system, and so no States could have the opportunity to object to them from the outset of their emergence.’

  82. 82.

    Compare with Linderfalk 2014.

  83. 83.

    Linderfalk 2012, at 7–8.

  84. 84.

    Ibid.

  85. 85.

    For further examples, see, ibid., at 8–9.

  86. 86.

    Compare with Rozakis 1976, at 76.

  87. 87.

    It should be added that according to some legal philosophers, there is no such thing as indefeasible law. See, e.g., Schauer 1998, at 223–240.

  88. 88.

    See ibid.

  89. 89.

    I admit to having used this example before in my earlier writing. See Linderfalk 2012, at 16–17.

  90. 90.

    See UNSC Res. 713, 25 September 1991, para 6.

  91. 91.

    Compare with Bosnia Genocide, Separate Opinion of Judge Lauterpacht, para 100.

  92. 92.

    See Articles 24 and 25 of the Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, respectively.

  93. 93.

    See Linderfalk 2012, at 17–18. (All footnotes are omitted).

  94. 94.

    Tomuschat 1993, at 307.

  95. 95.

    Compare with Zemanek 2011, at 383.

  96. 96.

    Compare with Schmalenbach 2012, at 909; Ibler 2007, at 753.

  97. 97.

    Compare with Mitchell 2005, at 231. ‘Jus cogens norms are notoriously difficult to identify.’

  98. 98.

    See, e.g. Schmalenbach 2012, at 907; Criddle and Fox-Decent 2009, at 338; de Schutter 2010, at 68; Tomuschat 1993, at 307.

  99. 99.

    See, e.g., Orakhelashvili 2006, at 80.

  100. 100.

    Ibid.

  101. 101.

    Rozakis 1976, at 56. See, similarly, Kolb 1998, at 98–102; Byers 1997, at 234; Gaja 1981, at 284; Pellet 2006, at 89. The argument assumes, of course, that whereas currently common Article 53 of the Vienna Conventions constitutes a reflection of state practice, practice may develop in directions prompting legal positivists to reconsider this conclusion.

  102. 102.

    Italics added.

  103. 103.

    On the distinction between rules and principles generally, see, e.g., Manero 2009.

  104. 104.

    Compare with Tams 2005, at 142.

  105. 105.

    See Sztucki 1974, at 84, and the further references cited there.

  106. 106.

    Ibid., at 82.

  107. 107.

    Ibid., at 83.

  108. 108.

    Some do not recognize this distinction. See, e.g., Bartsch and Elberling 2003, at 486–487.

  109. 109.

    See e.g., Orakhelashvili 2006, at 80.

  110. 110.

    Orakhelashvili 2003, at 25. See, similarly, Orakhelashvili 2005, at 244.

  111. 111.

    See, e.g., Roach and Pinkerton, paras 55–56.

  112. 112.

    See e.g., Onuf and Birney 1974, at 189.

  113. 113.

    Compare with Rozakis 1976, at 11–12. Is invalidating (or nullifying) a technique for the resolution of conflicts? Several commentators would seem to assume that it is. It could also be described as a technique for the avoidance of conflicts. Compare with Articles 53 and 64 of the Vienna Conventions.

  114. 114.

    Schmalenbach 2012, at 909.

  115. 115.

    Compare with Furundžija, paras 154–157. See, similarly, Ruiz Fabri 2012, at 1050; Orakhelashvili 2005, at 241.

  116. 116.

    von Verdross 1937, at 574. See, similarly, Ford 19941995, at 163.

  117. 117.

    Compare with Lyons 1977, at 725; Blakemore 1992, at 102–103.

  118. 118.

    For further reading concerning the meaning potential of conceptual terms in international legal discourse generally, see Linderfalk 2013a.

  119. 119.

    Linderfalk 2013a, at 36–39.

  120. 120.

    Compare with Vidmar 2013, at 4. ‘The jus cogens norms have a strong ethical underpinning and states are thus disinclined toward admitting their non-compliance. Breaching jus cogens norms is not seen only as a legal but also as a moral wrong.’ In referring to this functionality, commentators similarly speak about ‘the promotional rationale’, and ‘the charming power’, of jus cogens. See, in turn, Focarelli 2008, at 455–459; Ruiz Fabri 2012, at 1050.

  121. 121.

    Compare with Furundžija, paras 155–157.

  122. 122.

    Linderfalk 2013a, at 42–44.

  123. 123.

    See, e.g., Margolis and Laurence 2010.

  124. 124.

    Compare with Sarkin 2012, at 537–583.

  125. 125.

    Linderfalk 2013a, at 42–44.

  126. 126.

    See, e.g., Simma 1994, at 285 ff.

  127. 127.

    See, e.g., Blake, Separate Opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade, para 24.

  128. 128.

    See, e.g., Salcedo 1997, at 592.

  129. 129.

    Czapliński 19971998, at 88.

  130. 130.

    See, e.g., Salcedo 1997, at 594.

  131. 131.

    Linderfalk 2013a, at 39–40.

  132. 132.

    Compare with Glennon 2007, at 1270. ‘Lacking specificity, commentators have been left to guess as to the doctrine’s substantive content, with the result being a fill-in-the-blanks process that leaves subjectivity unchecked and that has resulted in a mode of analysis that consists of little more than a catalogue of favorite prohibitions.’

  133. 133.

    See Ford 19941995, at 153 and 164, respectively.

  134. 134.

    Compare with Barnidge 2008, Sect. 2.

  135. 135.

    Ibid.

  136. 136.

    Compare with the commentary to the Draft Articles on the Law of Treaties. ‘The emergence of rules having the character of jus cogens is comparatively recent, while international law is in process of rapid development. The Commission considered the right course to be to provide in general terms that a treaty is void if it conflicts with a rule of jus cogens and to leave the full content of this rule to be worked out in State practice and in the jurisprudence of international tribunals.’ International Law Commission, Draft Articles on the Law of Treaties with commentaries, 18th session, UN Doc. A/6309/Rev.l, 1966, at, 248.

  137. 137.

    See, e.g., Christopher 19992000, at 1233.

  138. 138.

    See, e.g., ibid., at 1234.

  139. 139.

    See, e.g., Blake, Separate Opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade, para 25.

  140. 140.

    de Schutter 2010, at 64.

  141. 141.

    Linderfalk 2013a, at 44–45.

  142. 142.

    See, e.g., Lyons 1977, at 230 ff.

  143. 143.

    See, e.g., Allain 2002, at 534.

  144. 144.

    See, e.g., Klein 2002, at 1247 ff.

  145. 145.

    Compare with Linderfalk 2013a, at 47–49.

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Linderfalk, U. (2016). Understanding the Jus Cogens Debate: The Pervasive Influence of Legal Positivism and Legal Idealism. In: Heijer, M., van der Wilt, H. (eds) Netherlands Yearbook of International Law 2015. Netherlands Yearbook of International Law, vol 46. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-114-2_3

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