ASIL 2019 Recap: Regional Human Rights Bodies as Instruments of International Law: Contradiction and Fragmentation

By Caitlin Hunter

ASILRegional Human Rights Organization of American States.JPG

Organization of American States

In Regional Human Rights Bodies as Instruments of International Law: Contradiction and Fragmentation, panelists discussed fragmentation among the three major regional human rights courts: the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR). Elena Abrusci provided insights from her research at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre. Silivia Serrano Guzmán and moderator Christina Cerna drew on their experiences working for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Finally, Thomas Antkowiak drew on his work advocating before the IACtHR and ACtHPR as director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University School of Law. The panelists provided detailed, meticulously researched analysis of what fragmentation is; why and when it happens; and its impact.

  1. What is fragmentation?

Fragmentation occurs when international tribunals reach conflicting decisions on how to apply international law to similar scenarios.

  1. Why does fragmentation happen?

Abrusci identified two primary reasons:

  • Different judges. Abrusci’s data suggested that judges on the IACtHR and the ACtHPR are worldlier than their counterparts on the ECtHR. 70-80% of ACtHPR judges and 50-60% of IACtHR judges had received their legal education on another continent, mostly in Europe. In contrast, less than 10% of ECtHR judges had received their legal education outside of Europe. Similarly, 10-20% of ACtHPR and IACtHR judges had worked for a UN human rights body but less than 4% of ECtHR judges had done so.
  • Different deference standards. The ECtHR applies the margin of appreciation doctrine, which allows states some flexibility in applying the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) and takes into account the current consensus among European states. In contrast, the IACtHR applies the conventionality control doctrine, which requires all states to fully comply with the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention).
  1. When does fragmentation happen?

Rarely. Panelists agreed that convergence is the norm and fragmentation is the exception. The IACtHR routinely looks to ECtHR jurisprudence and the ECtHR has looked to IACtHR jurisprudence in areas where it is more developed, as when the ECtHR adjudicated forced disappearances in Kosovo. However, panelists identified several notable examples of fragmentation:

  • Same-sex marriage. The ECtHR observed that most European states do not allow same-sex marriage and, applying the margin of appreciation, declined to interpret the right to marriage to include the right to same-sex marriage.[1] In contrast, the IACtHR explicitly rejected the ECtHR’s reliance on consensus and suggested that the right to marriage also applies to same-sex couples.[2]
  • The right to a criminal appeal. A protocol to the European Convention explicitly states that the right to a criminal appeal does not apply if the defendant is convicted by the country’s highest court or after an acquittal is overturned.[3] In contrast, the IACtHR has held that the right to an appeal applies in both of these situations.[4]
  • Indigenous property rights. The ECtHR has repeatedly failed to acknowledge indigenous collective property rights, ignoring not only well-developed IACtHR jurisprudence, but also an ILO convention and UN resolution.[5]
  • Reparations to victims. The ECtHR provides only a limited set of primarily financial remedies, while the IACtHR employs holistic remedies such as ordering the state to build medical centers, provide victims with scholarships, and formally apologize. Generally, panelists preferred the IACtHR’s approach but acknowledged that the IACtHR had sometimes ordered reparations so broad that they were effectively impossible to implement, as when the IACtHR ordered Honduras to ensure that all of its hundreds of prisons complied with all international human rights laws.

There are also notable examples where the courts have fragmented and then re-converged:

  • Access to information. The IACtHR interprets the right to freedom of expression to include a right to access to information.[6] The ECtHR initially rejected this view[7] but has gradually moved towards it, invoking the margin of appreciation and the growing consensus of European states in favor of access to information.[8] Paradoxically, although the ECtHR’s margin of appreciation typically causes fragmentation, here it permitted the ECtHR to converge towards the IACtHR.
  • The right to life. Under the IACtHR’s vida digna (dignified life) doctrine, the right to life incorporates social, economic, and cultural rights, such as the rights to food, shelter, and work. Although the UN Human Rights Committee has adopted the vida digna doctrine,[9] the ECtHR has generally ignored it and the ACtHPR has explicitly rejected it.[10] Advocates for social, economic, and cultural rights argue that treating them as a subset of the right to life subordinates them to civil and political rights and hinders their individual conceptual development. The IACtHR has begun to converge with the other two courts, applying the vida digna doctrine only to especially vulnerable groups, such as homeless children,[11] and finding alternative strategies to incorporate social, economic, and cultural rights.[12]
  1. Is fragmentation bad or good?

Like the panelists on the earlier Fragmentation in International Data Protection Law panel, panelists did not believe that fragmentation was inherently bad. In fact, panelists argued that some fragmentation among the regional human rights courts could help propel the development of new theories in international human rights law.

 

[1] Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, App. No. 30141/04, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2010), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-99605; Chapin and Charpentier v. France, App. No. 40183/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2016), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-163436.

[2] State Obligations Concerning Change of Name, Gender Identity, and Rights Derived from a Relationship Between Same-Sex Couples, Advisory Opinion OC-24/17, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. A) No. 24 (Nov. 24, 2017), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/cf/Jurisprudencia2/busqueda_opiniones_consultivas.cfm?lang=en.

[3] Article 2(2) of the Protocol No. 7 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ETS No.117, https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/117.

[4] Barreto Leiva v. Venezuela, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 206 (Nov. 31, 2009), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_206_ing.pdf; Mohamed v. Argentina, Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 255 (Nov. 23, 2012), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_255_ing.pdf.

[5] Elena Abrusci, Judicial Fragmentation on Indigenous Property Rights: Causes, Consequences and Solutions, 21 The International Journal of Human Rights 550–564 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2017.1307830.

[6] Claude-Reyes et al. v. Chile, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 151 (Sept. 19, 2006), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_151_ing.pdf.

[7] Leander v. Sweden, App. No. 9248/81, Eur. Ct. H.R. (1987), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-57519.

[8] Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary, App. No. 18030/11, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2016), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-167828.

[9] General Comment 36, para. 3 (2018), https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/CCPR_C_GC_36_8785_E.pdf.

[10] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v Kenya, App. No. 006/2012, Judgement, 26 May 2017, para. 154, http://www.african-court.org/en/images/Cases/Judgment/Application%20006-2012%20-%20African%20Commission%20on%20Human%20and%20Peoples%E2%80%99%20Rights%20v.%20the%20Republic%20of%20Kenya..pdf.

[11] Villagrin-Morales et al. v. Guatemala, Merits, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 63 (Nov. 19, 1999), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_63_ing.pdf.

[12] Lagos del Campo v. Peru, Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 340 (Aug. 31, 2017), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_340_esp.pdf.

ASIL 2019 Recap: Fragmentation in International Data Protection Law

By Caitlin Hunter

In Fragmentation in International Data Protection Law, panelists discussed the rapidly spreading and often contradictory laws protecting consumer data, incorporating the perspectives of corporations (Geff Brown, Microsoft), consumer activist groups (Carolina Rossini, Access Now), academia (Peter Swire, Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia Tech), and government (Justin Antonipillai, formerly of the Department of Commerce and currently of WireWheel). Here are five key take-aways:

  1. Data protection laws have gone from a parochial European phenomenon to a global trend.

Traditionally, European countries have been particularly active in pushing for data protection, as shown most recently in the EU’s enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, laws are spreading rapidly, with over one hundred countries implementing some sort of protections. All four of the BRICs countries have adopted or are considering data protection laws and the U.S. Congress is increasingly debating the issue. U.S. states are also passing data protection laws, including the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act and initiatives to pass laws in Vermont, Washington, and Massachusetts.

ASILFragmentation AccessNow homepage.PNG

Website of AccessNow, a consumer activism group, where panelist Carolina Rossini works.


2. Data’s move into the cloud means that data protection laws anywhere affect data everywhere.

Today, users anywhere may be accessing data on a server located anywhere and, as a result, domestic or regional data protection laws impact the entire world. U.S. organizations scrambling to comply with the EU’s GDPR are familiar with this, but the impact flows in the opposite direction, too. Before the recent passage of the U.S. CLOUD Act, a police officer who was investigating a local crime in the EU but needed evidence from a server in the U.S. might have to wait a year or more to get a warrant form a U.S. judge under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. These concerns are not hypothetical- as a Belgian audience member heatedly complained, Microsoft’s Skype is currently fighting for its right not to provide wiretaps ordered by Belgian courts.

ASILFragmentation GDPR.PNG

GDPR website

 

 

  1. Fragmentation between data protection laws stems from different regions’ fundamentally different privacy frameworks.

European countries view privacy as a basic human right, enshrined in their Constitutions, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This contrasts sharply with the U.S.’s strong emphasis on freedom of information. Typically, Americans assume that personal data can be used, unless there is a justification for prohibiting it, while Europeans assume that personal data cannot be used, unless there is a justification for permitting it. One panelist reported that an EU official privately confided that big data is probably illegal under the GDPR. If this conflict is not resolved, it will upend industries that have premised their future on massive use of big data.

ASILFragmentation WireWheel homepage.PNG

Website of WireWheel, where panelist Justin Antonipillai works.

 

  1. Compromises have broken down.

For years, U.S. companies and European countries accommodated their conflicting frameworks through a deal in which U.S. companies publically pledged to comply with EU data protection laws, allowing the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to take action against the companies for misrepresentation under U.S. law if the companies violated EU law. However, the future of this deal is in doubt, as the EU grows increasingly concerned with privacy. In 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) struck down the original version of the deal, called the U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor, in Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner, C-362/14. Although the U.S. Department of Commerce quickly negotiated a new deal, now dubbed the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, Schrems challenged the new deal, too, and it is again headed back to the ECJ, its future dubious. If the ECJ decides that U.S. privacy protections remain inadequate, this will impact not only tech companies in the U.S. but in any country that does not share the EU’s high level of privacy protection.

  1. Consistent laws are needed- but not necessarily uniform laws.

The fragmentation of data protection law has left tech companies scrambling to reconcile hundreds of conflicting laws. Within the U.S., many now advocate for a single, national data protection law, including the Chamber of Commerce and panelist Justin Antonipillai. However, even panelist Geff Brown of Microsoft believed that it was not only unlikely but undesirable to push for uniform laws internationally. Instead, he encouraged countries to develop a global forum that would allow them to create laws that reflect their own values but are consistent enough to be interoperable.

ASIL 2019 Recap: The Law (and Politics) of Displacement

By Meredith Capps

ASILdisplacement.jpg
On Thursday, March 28, Jill Goldenziel of Marine Corps University moderated a discussion on legal and political challenges surrounding forced displacement, which is at an all-time high. Panelists included Itamar Mann of the University of Haifa; Daniel P. Sullivan of Refugees International; Alice Farmer, the Legal Officer for UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)in Washington, D.C.; and Kristina Campbell, a clinical faculty member at the University of the District of Columbia.

Mann discussed some history of international law governing displaced persons, including the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which, in part, facilitated population exchange and redistribution between Greece and Turkey. In the human rights era following the World Wars, the forced movement of groups of persons became “the paradigm of a criminal act,”  with freedom of movement established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and forced movement of populations prohibited in the Geneva Conventions. Mann identified the movement of Syrians out of Greece as a current challenge, and climate change as the impetus for movement a future issue.

Sullivan discussed the displacement of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh, where roughly 1 million people now reside in camps. Rendered stateless in Myanmar as “illegal Bengalis,” the Rohingya are also not protected as refugees in Bangladesh (who has considered moving some to a disaster prone island in the Bay of Bengal). Despite clear evidence of criminal activity by Myanmar officials, an ICC referral may be blocked by Russia and China, and fact-finding missions and target sanctions have failed to impact change.

Farmer noted that with only 1/4 to 2/3 of displaced persons presently returning to their home state, traditional displacement solutions are no longer viable. Though some characterize migration north from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador as economic migration, current patterns suggest a forced displacement, and UNHCR takes the position that many of those fleeing violence in these regions satisfy refugee criterion. The number of families migrating is particularly significant, and suggests that deterrence is ineffective. These changes in the nature of persecution test of weaknesses in international law, with adjudicators inconsistent in their approach to defining “refugee,” and burden sharing conversations amongst states fraught. While UNHCR is working to increase capacity in the Mexican asylum system and facilitate local integration, its capacity remains vastly below that of the U.S.

Campbell discussed U.S. immigration family detention centers, a new concept established during the mid-2000s. Per the Flores settlement agreement regarding detention conditions for minors, immigration authorities should preference release of minors to parents, and maintain humane, non-secure facilities. She described the few family detention centers in the U.S., and her clinic’s work assisting families in those centers, including credible fear reviews. Campbell said that the Trump administration’s June 2018 executive order did not, in fact, alter its zero tolerance policy that facilitated family separation, and it has no plan to reunite families separated as a result.

The panelists discussed several recurring, fundamental issues during the question-and-answer period. One was the idea of repatriation, with efforts to repatriate Rohingya during the 1970s cited as an effort that failed due to lack of political will, and safety concerns on the part of the group itself; when root causes remain unaddressed, repatriation is not a viable option. Domestic courts do, at times, enforce international norms to protect displaced persons, citing the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant case, but judicial enforcement can generate a backlash. Terminology used to characterize a situation can also either boost or diminishing political will. For example, when an NGO or state uses “ethnic cleansing,” rather than genocide or “crimes against humanity,” public sense of urgency may diminish. Conversely, frequent use of the term “crisis” or “surge” by advocacy groups and the media may desensitize the public.

Goldenziel also discussed the Global Compacts for Refugees and Migration, nonbinding agreements negotiated by many states, including the U.S., and adopted by the UN General Assembly, but whose status under international law is unclear. Negotiations resembled those for a treaty, with some states lodging statements similar to RUDs, and some states appear to consider it forceful despite its nonbinding status. The U.S. withdrew from the compact, citing sovereignty concerns.

GDPR and Data Privacy at the ABA TECHSHOW

GDPRBy Meredith Capps

I recently attended the ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago, IL (along with quite a few other law librarians, an impressive turnout!), primarily to stay current on recent e-discovery practices and platforms as my library’s resident e-discovery expert, per my prior life as a law firm associate.  As an FCIL librarian, however, I was compelled to step out of former-litigator mode and attend what proved to be a fascinating session on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and data privacy laws.  The speakers, Steven M. Puiszis and Judy Shelby, described the ways in which the practices of U.S. law firms and their clients regarding personal information may run afoul of the law, and how U.S. entities should analyze their risk and approach compliance.

Puiszis and Shelby discussed the GDPR’s expansive reach, noting that even minimal activity in an EU state may render a foreign entity “established” in the EU for purposes of the regulation, and that even data that is not “processed” in the EU is covered by the regulation.  They emphasized that “personal information” is defined in a manner far broader than U.S. lawyers would expect, that there is no small business exception to the regulation, and that this information may reside in many repositories maintained by the typical U.S. firm or business, such as human resource databases, marketing databases, client databases, and, of course, email correspondence.  They discussed lawful bases to process personal information, noting that a law firm conflict check should qualify as information necessary for the defense of legal claims, and discussed anonymizing data as one means of ensuring compliance with GDPR.   Though there is uncertainty as to how GDPR will impact requests for documents in U.S. litigation, Shelby noted that federal courts are generally not receptive to enforcing foreign blocking statutes, and that the typical U.S. approach to discovery runs counter to GDPR’s goals of minimum storage.  Cautious U.S. litigants should nevertheless consider narrowly targeting requests for data that may be subject to GDPR, and consider whether anonymized data would suit their purposes.

Their discussion raised a few issues that brought to mind research questions well suited to a course on FCIL research:

  1. National law: Though as a regulation, rather than a directive, GDPR is directly applicable to member states and does not require domestic implementing measures, Puiszis emphasized that EU states maintain their own privacy laws and policies that U.S. entities must consider in addition to GDPR.  Furthermore, I found that European Commission guidance issued in May 2018 specifically notes that the regulation empowers member states to impose conditions and limitations beyond those imposed by GDPR, and contemplates individual member state determinations as to the applicability of the rules in certain sectors.  The EC also states that interpretation of the regulation will be left to European national courts.  In constructing an EU research question concerning GDPR, instructors could well introduce foreign law questions into their hypothetical research problem–questions for which researchers would not enjoy the benefit of the national transposition measures list provided only for directives in EUR-Lex.
  2. Cyber-insurance: Shelby discussed the possibility of obtaining cyber insurance to cover fines associated with GDPR violations, but noted that these fines may not be insurable under the domestic law of some states, raising another potential foreign law companion question.
  3. Recognition of foreign judgments: Though due to time constraints they could not discuss enforcement issues in depth, the speakers mentioned difficulties surrounding the imposition of fines when an entity lacks assets in the EU, and that international treaties or domestic laws such as the U.S. Uniform Foreign Money Judgements Recognition Act may provide mechanisms for cross-border enforcement.  As enforcement proceedings inevitably proceed, they should raise interesting examples involving a mix of foreign and international law.
  4. Data Protection/Processing Agreements (DPAs): Puiszis discussed the importance of entering into, and modifying per GDPR, agreements with vendors and third parties with whom firms, and their clients, may share personal information.  Asking students to locate sample agreements would be an excellent way to reinforce research instruction from 1L and Advanced Legal Research courses regarding publications containing forms and sample contracts.

Locating UK and EU Guidance on Brexit

By Alison Shea

Brexit
Over the past week, two things happened which inspired me to write this post.  First I read this story on how the Dutch government had set up a website to provide guidance to its citizens on how to prepare for Brexit, and of course I immediately imagined how awesome it would be if the Dutch Brexit monster featured in the story teamed up with Gritty for a buddy comedy.  Second, I read FCIL-SIS Chair Catherine Deane’s column in the FCIL Newsletter asking for people to volunteer to write a blog post for Diplawmatic Dialogues.

As much as I know you were hoping to read my script ideas for the Gritty/Brexit monster buddy comedy, I began wondering if any other countries had created a comprehensive guidance site for its citizens and businesses in advance of Brexit (and especially a no-deal Brexit).  It had previously occurred to me that teaching an EU and/or UK research classes this semester would be very challenging given the timing of Brexit, and I figured the best thing I could recommend to students given this uncertainty would be to look for and follow government guidance documents.

Why recommend government guidance documents?  Because the actual withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU – currently scheduled to occur at 11pm GMT on March 29 – now looks like it will be very abrupt (if it happens at all), it will not be possible to amend all relevant laws to reflect the changes immediately (check out this blog post for a brief overview of the magnitude of changes that need to occur).  Thus, it will be important for anyone with an interest in Brexit to follow the government’s guidance on how to deal with it until the law can catch up.  Not only is the guidance going to be crucial for those living and working in the UK, it will also be extremely important for any country that currently engages with the UK in its (soon to be former?) capacity as a fellow EU member.   Therefore, a list of places to locate government guidance seemed like a good tool to create for librarians and FCIL instructors to have in their toolbox over the coming month(s).

After spending a few days searching and locating guidance information for most of the EU member states, I realized that the EU had already beaten me to creating a list of the relevant government guidance sites.  This was an extremely disappointing discovery, since I had already pitched this as a great blog post to Alyson and Susan and was really proud of my advanced Google (and Google Translate) skills.  However, from all my searching I can at least share my top research tip: because “Brexit” isn’t a real word, it’s a great search term to use in any language!   In the end, Alyson and Susan convinced me that there could still be value in my post, and so I humbly present a (shorter) list of relevant sites for locating government guidance on Brexit.

It should go without saying that this is what I was able to locate as of February 26, 2019; the landscape of Brexit guidance will undoubtedly change the closer we get to “B-day”, and will also change if the UK government takes new action in the interim (the latest update is that a “meaningful vote” will be held by March 12), so stay tuned!*

United Kingdom guidance

European Union guidance

Individual European country guidance

Even non-EU member states are finding it necessary to prepare for Brexit, as these countries interact with the United Kingdom under various bilateral agreements with the European Union and the European Economic Area; see, for example, this recent agreement on arrangements of citizen’s rights for many of these non-EU countries.  Three countries that have especially close ties with the UK are listed here:

 

*Looking for suggestions on how to “stay tuned” to the ever-changing world of Brexit?  Here are some of my go-to sources for Brexit coverage:

The Luxembourg Space Resources Act and International Law

By Charles Bjork

Asteroid Mining_NASA Public Domain Image.png

Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons.

Among the most intriguing and eagerly anticipated presentations at the 2018 Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries was a lecture by Professor Lorenzo Gradoni, a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Procedural Law, on Luxembourg’s recently enacted Space Resources Act and whether or not it is in conflict with international law governing the use of outer space.  Sadly, Professor Gradoni had to cancel at the last minute, and there was not enough time to locate a replacement speaker.  Paul Mousel, a founding partner of the law firm Arendt & Medernach, who spoke about the practice of law in Luxembourg, was kind enough to provide the conference delegates with some background information that helped to explain how Luxembourg improbably became a pioneer in the field of space law.  Time constraints precluded Mr. Mousel from discussing the new Space Resources Act in detail.  Since the topic is of interest to me, I decided to do some research on my own.  What follows is a summary of the context provided by Mr. Mousel, along with my own findings about the origins of Luxembourg’s Space Resources Act and whether it is compatible or in conflict with the multilateral treaties that govern the use outer space.

Although few people today think of Luxembourg as an industrial powerhouse, it was one of Europe’s largest steel producers from the middle of the 19th century until the last quarter of the twentieth century.  The energy crisis of the 1970s accelerated the decline of Luxembourg’s steel industry.  As it became apparent that most steel production eventually would shift to lower-cost jurisdictions, Luxembourg began looking for ways to diversify its economy.   Banking and financial services offered one path.  The emerging field of satellite-based communications and broadcasting offered another.  The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union provided the impetus for the development of artificial satellites.  As with other technologies originally developed for military purposes, it wasn’t long before civilian applications began to emerge.

To better understand how Luxembourg managed to establish itself as a center for the satellite communications industry, some background information on satellite operations will be helpful.  Most communications satellites operate in a geostationary orbit, directly above the Earth’s equator, following in the direction of the Earth’s rotation.  From the ground, a satellite in such an orbit appears to be motionless, occupying a fixed position in the sky.  A ground-based antenna can communicate with the satellite simply by pointing to that fixed position without having to rotate back and forth to track the satellite’s movement.  There are two main limitations on the use of geostationary orbits by communications satellites.  First, only a finite number of satellites can safely operate within the relatively narrow band above the Earth’s equator.  Second, the number of radio frequencies that can be used to communicate with satellites operating within a geostationary orbit also is limited.  These frequencies must be allocated for use on an exclusive basis in order to prevent one satellite operator’s transmissions from interfering with another operator’s transmissions.

The entity responsible for allocating the limited number of orbital positions and radio frequencies available for satellite broadcasting is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations.  For each of its member states, the ITU set aside a fixed number of geostationary orbital positions, as well as a fixed number of uplink and downlink frequencies for communicating with satellites operating in geostationary orbit.  National telecommunications regulators, such as the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S., may assign these orbital positions and frequencies to public or private entities operating within their respective jurisdictions.  If there are no entities capable of using the orbital positions and frequencies allocated to a particular ITU member state, those positions and frequencies remain available for the use of entities based outside the jurisdiction on a “first come, first served” basis, subject to the oversight of the ITU.

Just as its steel industry was contracting, Luxembourg suddenly found itself in possession of two potentially lucrative assets:  geostationary orbital positions for satellites to occupy and radio frequencies for communicating with the satellites occupying those orbital positions.  As Mr. Mousel explained, Luxembourg’s location on the border between France and Germany makes it ideally situated to transmit satellite broadcasts to most of Europe’s largest television markets.  The only thing Luxembourg needed to take advantage of this opportunity was a domestic satellite operator.  If no domestic satellite operator emerged, Luxembourg risked losing its ITU-allocated orbital positions and radio frequencies to foreign entities willing to claim them.

At that time, in the early to mid 1980s, the only satellite operators in Europe were state-owned broadcasters.  Lacking the resources and technical expertise to develop a state-owned champion of its own, the government of Luxembourg decided to offer seed money to subsidize the establishment of a privately-owned satellite company.  It was approached by Clay T. Whitehead, an American who had worked in the Nixon administration as the first director of the Office of Telecommunications Policy, and who later helped Hughes Aircraft to launch its satellite subsidiary.  In exchange for the seed money, the assignment of the requisite orbital positions and radio frequencies, and the right to broadcast television directly into viewers’ homes, Whitehead agreed to base his new company in the Grand Duchy and allow its government to take a minority stake in the business.  Thus was born Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), Europe’s first privately-owned satellite operator.

Luxembourg’s gamble on SES soon paid off.  In 1988, just three years after it was founded, SES launched its first satellite, the Astra 1A, into geostationary orbit, which enabled it to enlist as clients many of the key players in Europe’s emerging satellite television industry, including the German broadcaster RTL and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV.  Thirty years later, SES operates more than 50 geostationary satellites and is among the world’s leading providers of satellite-based video and data connectivity services.  The government of Luxembourg has retained its minority stake in the company.

With the enactment of its Space Resources Act in 2017, Luxembourg hopes to build on its success in the field of satellite communications and establish itself as a center for what many observers anticipate will be the next chapter in the commercial development of outer space: mining.  Long before scientists confirmed that the Moon, certain types of asteroids, and other celestial bodies contain rich deposits of precious metals and minerals, Hollywood screenwriters had envisioned a future in which humans would turn to space to replenish the Earth’s depleted resources.  As private enterprises continue to play a larger role in space exploration, it is only a matter of time before the commercial extraction of resources from outer space moves from the realm of science fiction to reality.

The most valuable space commodity – at least during the initial stages of commercial development – may not be platinum or other precious metals, but ice.  In addition to being melted to provide drinking water for astronauts, ice can be broken down into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen.  The former can be converted into fuel, while the latter is essential for human respiration.  If ice mined in space can provide a reliable source of drinkable water, breathable air, and fuel, it would no longer be necessary to transport those essential resources from the Earth, making space exploration and long-term human habitation in space more viable and less costly than they are now.  Moreover, if communications satellites can be refueled in mid-orbit with fuel derived from hydrogen locked in space ice, it would dramatically extend their useful lifespans and significantly reduce the amount of hazardous space debris.

Even as technological advances bring space mining closer to reality, investors in companies seeking to extract resources from outer space will be reluctant to move forward without legal clarity on the ownership of such resources.  It was the United States, not Luxembourg, that took the first step in creating a legal framework for the recognition of property rights in space resources.  On November 25, 2015, Congress enacted the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act (SREUA) as part of the larger Space Launch Competitiveness Act.  The SREUA defines a “space resource” as any abiotic resource, including water and minerals, in situ in outer space.  It also defines an “asteroid resource” as a space resource found on or within a single asteroid.

Section 51303 of the SREUA states that any U.S. citizen engaged in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource is entitled “to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”  The term “U.S. citizen” is defined to include 1) an individual who is a citizen of the U.S.; 2) a business entity organized under the laws of the U.S., or the laws of any U.S. state; or 3) a business entity organized under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction, provided that a controlling interest in the business is held by an individual or entity described in 1) or 2) above.  In other words, the SREUA’s recognition of property rights in resources extracted from outer space applies only to individual American citizens, American-based business entities, and the foreign subsidiaries thereof.

Luxembourg became the second country, and the first in Europe, to establish a legal framework for the ownership of resources extracted from outer space with the passage of its Space Resources Act, which entered into force on August 1, 2017.  Like its American counterpart, the Luxembourg statute explicitly recognizes a property interest in resources extracted from outer space.  However, there are two critical difference that set Luxembourg’s Space Resources Act apart.   First, the Luxembourg statute establishes an accreditation and licensing regime for entities seeking to engage in space mining.  Only entities that have applied for and received a license for their space mining activities may assert an ownership interest in the resources extracted.  Second, the Luxembourg statute does not include a nationality clause.  Any corporation, limited partnership or limited liability company established under Luxembourg law, or any European company with a registered office in Luxembourg, may submit an application for accreditation and licensing.  It doesn’t matter who owns or controls the entity submitting the application.  As long as the entity is established under Luxembourg law, or is a European company with a registered office in Luxembourg, it may submit an application.

Luxembourg has a long history of enacting tax loopholes and less burdensome regulatory regimes to entice multinational enterprises to establish foreign subsidiaries within its borders.  Critics refer to these foreign subsidiaries, created solely for the purpose of tax and regulatory arbitrage, as “letterbox companies.”  The Space Resources Act is meant to lure start-ups, not established multinationals.  It draws its inspiration from the seed money the Grand Duchy provided to launch SES, Europe’s first privately-owned satellite operator.  In fact, even before the Space Resources Act entered into force, the government of Luxembourg established a €200 million Space Fund for making strategic investments in fledgling companies that aspire to be space mining pioneers.  To date, the Space Fund has invested in half a dozen mostly American start-ups, including Seattle-based Planetary Resources and San Jose-based Deep Space Industries.  Once they establish subsidiaries in Luxembourg, these start-ups will be able to apply for space mining licenses under the Space Resources Act.

Are Luxembourg’s Space Resources Act and its American counterpart compatible with the multilateral conventions that govern outer space?  No treaty provision directly addresses the private ownership of space resources.  The most relevant provision is article II of the Outer Space Treaty, which states that “[o]uter space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”  Some scholars have interpreted this provision to preclude the private ownership of resources extracted from outer space.  The more widely accepted view is that article II only prohibits nation states from asserting their sovereignty over celestial bodies and does not prevent private parties from claiming ownership of extracted resources.  Supporters of space mining often make an analogy to deep seabed mining, which is permitted under the Law of the Sea Convention, or to fishing boats operating in international waters, which claim ownership of the fish they catch without asserting a property interest in the ocean.

The ownership of extracted resources is by no means the only legal issue that must be resolved for space mining to become a reality.  Private enterprises will be reluctant to begin prospecting in space unless they are reasonably certain that they will have an exclusive right to extract the resources that they discover.  How will companies assert their right to extract resources from a particular celestial body?  Will there be a space mining registry?  If so, who will administer it?  Will companies need to establish a physical presence on a celestial body before they can assert a mining claim?  How will the scope and duration of such claims be determined if nation states cannot assert sovereignty over celestial bodies?  How will companies prevent competitors from interfering with their mining claims?  Neither the Luxembourg Space Resources Act nor its American counterpart address any of these thorny questions, and it is highly unlikely that such matters can be satisfactorily resolved through domestic legislation.

Recognizing the need for international cooperation, the Hague Institute for Global Justice, an independent think tank, established the Hague Working Group on Space Resources in 2014.   The Working Group consists of a geographically diverse collection of stakeholders, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and industry representatives.  Its goal is to identify the building blocks for developing an international framework to govern the use of space resources.  This framework will provide a basis for negotiating a new international legal agreement on space resources or, if that is not feasible, for the development of soft law instruments that will serve the same purpose.  The Working Group completed its initial round of meetings on December 18, 2017, and issued this progress report.  The second round of meetings began in January.  The most recent meeting was held at the end of November.  Appropriately enough, it took place in Luxembourg.

 

Suggestions for further reading:

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, How a Tax Haven Is Leading the Race to Privatize Space, The Guardian (July 15, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/15/luxembourg-tax-haven-privatise-space.

Chelsey Davis & Mark J. Sundahl, The Hague Working Group on Space Resources:  Creating the Legal Building Blocks for a New Industry, 30 Air & Space L 7 (2017).

Rachel Mitchell, Note, Into the Final Frontier:  The Expanse of Space Commercialization, 83 Mo. L. Rev. 429 (2018).

Jinyuan Su, Legality of Unilateral Exploitation of Space Resources Under International Law, 66 Int’l & Comp. L. Q. 991 (2017).

Space Resources Luxembourg (official government website).

Loi du 20 juillet 2017 sur l’exploration et l’utilisation des ressources de l’espace, 674 Journal Officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, July 28, 2017, p. 1.

U.S. Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act, 51 U.S.C. §§51301 et seq.
U.S. Space Launch Competitiveness Act, P.L. 114-90, 129 Stat. 704.

Overview of the China International Commercial Courts

By Evelyn Ma

CaptureThis post attempts to consolidate blog posts relating to the recent establishment of the two new international commercial courts in China (CICC) aimed at facilitating resolution of disputes arising from China’s One Belt One Road or Belt and Road Initiative.  The Supreme People’s Court of China’s “Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Regarding the Establishment of the International Commercial Court” took effect on July 1, 2018.  The Provisions set out the scope and operation of the two CICCs: one in Xian, and the other in Shenzhen.  The CICC in Shenzhen will focus on “One Belt” disputes arising from infrastructural developments along the coastline of the maritime routes.  The CICC in Xian will address “One Road” disputes arising from projects on land. The new courts will house mediation, arbitration and litigation under the same roof.  They intend to deal primarily with “international commercial cases” where at least one party is a non-Chinese national or resident, or where the dispute has some minimal contact with a foreign country other than China.[1]

For the legal framework creating the two CICC courts, see here.

For an overview of the jurisdiction of the courts, see here, here and here.

For the development and viability of the courts as an alternative forum for international arbitration, see here and here.

For profiles of the judges, see here.

For observations on the functioning of the Expert Committee, see here.

In addition to 18 model (or “typical”) BRI infrastructure cases, the official website includes selections of summaries of additional “typical” arbitration cases involving a non-Chinese party.  One can also search in the cases module of PKUlaw (ChinaLawInfo) for more comprehensive search results of arbitration cases involving a foreign party. However, most do not come with English translations.

[1] Under Article 3 of the Provisions, an “international commercial case” is one which requires at least one of the following: one or both parties are foreign nationals; one or both parties reside outside of China; or the object of suit or legal facts that create, change or terminate the commercial relationship occur or occurred outside of China.