MJIL Online

MJIL Online brings you timely short-form articles that represent a wide range of views on contemporary issues in international and comparative law. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors only.


Stephanie Zable
Vol. 39 Articles Editor
Mexico City is sinking.[1] So concludes a New York Times article detailing the implications of climate change for Mexico City. But the article also notes the most severe and immediate consequence of climate change for cities all over the world: the effect on fresh water resources. In many places, climate change will cause longer and more frequent droughts, while increased heat will cause an increase in evaporation of groundwater and a decrease in river-feeding snowpack.[2] Critically, these effects will vary place-to-place, so changes will occur in not only water quantity but also water distribution. The result is that the world is about to see a massive shift in water-wealth and -poverty that will have drastic and potentially devastating effects on freshwater resources around the globe.[3]

As the climate changes, cities and countries across a wide swath of the globe will struggle for increasingly scarce freshwater resources. This struggle will manifest in escalating international competition for transboundary water resources, those shared by more than one country. At present, these resources are governed by a patchwork of more than 3,600 agreements and state practices,[4] including multiple multilateral agreements; bilateral and regional agreements governing individual bodies of water; and customary

Jenny Elkin
Vol.  38 Associate Editor
Upon election to the highest office in the United States, President Donald Trump launched a spree of executive orders. One of these orders was the swift abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had worked for years to implement.[1] The TPP was a plan to unite twelve nations of the Pacific Rim and the United States, a partnership accounting for forty percent of the world’s GDP, in a pact of free trade.[2] The plan would cut tariffs and decimate other potential obstacles to trade, such as investment restrictions and blocked data transfers.[3] The TPP would have been especially beneficial for the American services industry, including business, finance, and information, a slice of the global economy in which the United States still maintains a semblance of supremacy.[4] The deal would have opened doors for sectors such as finance, software, and legal services by reducing domestic red tape in the partner nations.[5]

The debate surrounding the TPP created unlikely bedfellows, as Senator Bernie Sanders aligned with President Trump on the need to abandon the deal, while even prominent Republicans such as Senator John McCain have vocally opposed the President’s order.[6] The competing

Rebecca Hughes
Volume 38 Associate Editor
The Arctic is having an unusually mild winter.  In February, the region experienced a period of unseasonably warm weather, with the temperature being twenty degrees warmer than the average.[1]  This is the third time this year that dramatically higher than average Arctic temperatures have been recorded. [2]  At the same time, on the opposite end of the globe in Antarctica, sea ice is at the lowest level ever recorded.[3]  The climate is changing, and as it does, it is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities in regions across the globe,[4] having a direct effect on the people who live in areas directly impacted by climate change. 

Rising sea levels, desertification, and other consequences of climate change are forcing people to leave their homes in search of food, water, or security.[5]  UNHCR estimates that, annually, 21.5 million people are forcibly displaced by weather-related disasters.[6]  As temperatures continue to rise, more and more people will be forced to leave, as all regions of the globe will be affected by climate change.  Currently, the largest displaced population is from Asia, accounting for 85 percent of the total population.[7]

Unfortunately, the current international legal framework is not equipped to address needs of this pending influx

Alejandra Salmeron
Vol. 39 Managing Editor
Family law permeates many major contemporary international issues, yet it is rarely discussed alongside international law. Issues at this cross-section are full of complexities and curious combinations of international law and domestic custody law.[1] Custody disputes under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Convention”) are a particularly relevant and increasingly prevalent example of this intersection between family law and international law.[2] Cases brought under the Convention bring to light the difficulties that institutions face when applying laws, crafted at the international level with a broad mission to the domestic and local levels.[3] Though helpful in the fight against child abduction, the Convention is not without its limitations. A stronger scholarly movement for review and reform is necessary.

The Convention is a multilateral treaty designed to protect children from “wrongful removal or retention” to other countries not their own and to institute measures that will enable the return of the child.[4] Today 81 countries, including the United States, have adopted the treaty.[5] The Convention is mostly procedural in content[6] and seeks to halt and take away “any legal advantage actual and would-be abductors might hope to derive from such actions…thereby safeguarding the best

Sam Han
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
Large international financial institutions (IFIs) have increasingly been experimenting with enclave projects over the past two decades in efforts to develop the territories and promote long-term growth of less developed countries. These IFIs, including major banks such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) aim to assist member countries to foster development of foreign trade and investment as a means of spurring economic growth.[1] One means of doing so has been through the implementation of an enclave project in a specific region of the less developed country.

Enclave projects are generally known as large production-oriented investment projects that import a sophisticated production system into the local economy, operate with a high degree of autonomy, and export the produced goods out of that community thereby generating foreign exchange.[2] These enclave projects would initially carve out a certain area of land and grant it legal independence to facilitate the extraction and the subsequent exportation of resources such as hydroelectricity, coal, and gas. One significant benefit of enclave projects is that investors can be assured that the projects are for the most part insulated from the external forces of the host country’s

Rachel Barr
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
After just a few weeks in office Donald Trump has already threatened to violate international law. I’m not talking about his executive orders banning refugees from entering the United States,[1] or his re-implementation of the global gag rule;[2] I’m talking about his desire to revive enhanced interrogation techniques, also known as torture. On January 25, it was reported that a draft executive order, entitled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” if signed, would begin a review process that could eventually lead to the re-opening of C.I.A. black site prisons, and the reinstatement of torture.[3] The order would specifically have revoked the Obama-era order that closed the black site prisons and limited interrogation techniques to those in the Army Field Manual, which “prohibits waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation and other enhanced interrogation techniques.”[4] As of February 4, it appears as though the administration has walked back the terms of the order and, in the latest draft, no longer plans to revoke Obama’s executive order or pursue an evaluation of whether C.I.A. black site prisons and torture should be used.[5]

But, we’re not out of the woods. The executive order is still in draft form, and could continue to change

Adam Church
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
Over the past year, there have been numerous events indicating that populism is on the rise in the Western world. Though the particular forms of these individual events may vary, a common thread linking them together is a desire to retreat from globalization to the perceived safety of protectionism. While a retreat from globalization would likely have steep consequences for a number of market sectors,[1] one sector that may prove to be especially vulnerable is the financial sector. Arguably still reeling from the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis,[2] the international financial sector is already under pressure from events that appear to indicate a retreat from globalization by the West, such as Brexit.[3] Furthermore, as Western nations have traditionally occupied significant leadership positions within the international financial system,[4] their shift towards more protectionist stances would likely create a substantial leadership vacuum within this system. Should Western nations continue to retreat from globalization, the question arises as to who will emerge as a leader and how they will shape the future of international finance and trade.

With respect to potential new leaders of globalization, China emerged as a surprising candidate during the World Economic Forum’s conference in

Katrina Fetsch
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled against China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. China asserts sovereignty over a region containing the island of Taiwan, as well as areas claimed by China’s neighbors. China rejected the court’s ruling on the grounds that the PCA did not have authority to hear the case and maintains its claim on the territory.[1] This stance by China parallels actions taken by other world superpowers (and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council) such as the United States, Russia, and United Kingdom, in which they also seem to ignore rulings by international tribunals.[2] If the most powerful countries in the world feel free to disregard international law, there is a question of whether this is indeed a rising trend and what implications such a trend might have for the future of the international system. This inquiry is even more pertinent in light of shifting tides around the world and the new, outspokenly isolationist regime in the United States.

Critiques of China’s rejection of the ruling from the United States drew allegations of hypocrisy from China, particularly regarding the U.S.’s dispute with Nicaragua

Richard Self
Vol. 38 Contributing Editor
In mid-January, the U.S. military deployed the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division to Poland.[1] The deployment is the largest United States military deployment since the end of the Cold War and is intended to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.[2] Poland has been a signatory to the North Atlantic Treaty (establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or “NATO”) since 1999, when it joined the organization during NATO’s first major post-Cold War expansion.[3] The core provision of the North Atlantic Treaty states that if one party is subject to an armed attack, that attack shall be considered an attack against all parties.[4] This triggers the right to collective self-defense provided in Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter,[5] which would allow all NATO parties to use armed force against the initial attacker “in order to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”[6]

The critical question in today’s evolving combat environment is how to define an “armed attack” that would trigger the right to collective self-defense. When NATO was first created in 1949, the concept of an armed attack was fairly straightforward given the technological limitations of the era. However, the recent

Seema Kassab
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
There is no clearer example of the failure of the UN to halt mass atrocities and genocide than the current conflict in Syria. Nearly six years, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and millions of refugees later, the UN has repeatedly failed to effectively take action in protecting Syrian civilians. In fact, the situation devolves year after year without a solution in sight. The dire need for humanitarian intervention in Syria is begging for a response from the international community and the invocation of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), an emerging norm in international law that places a responsibility on the international community to prevent and react to mass atrocities. R2P was intended to address genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,[1] all crimes that the Assad regime has been committing in Syria for the past six years. The doctrine was adopted at the World Summit in 2005 in response to the failures of the international community to intervene in the humanitarian crises in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo.[2] So why does R2P even exist if no one invokes it when it is most needed?

The doctrine itself is not at fault, but rather the institutions that

Ava Morgenstern
Vol. 38 Associate Editor

Certain U.S. Immigration Court jurisdictions, by almost never granting asylum, arguably violate international law obligations on fair hearings for asylum-seekers.  The problem of highly restricted access to asylum will worsen under the Trump administration.  Despite possible small measures to alleviate the situation, not much will change unless and until the arrival of a future Presidential administration and Congress more concerned with international human rights obligations.

According to a coalition of U.S. law scholars and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that presented at a December 2016 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing, certain U.S. Immigration Court jurisdictions violate the due process protections of the American Declaration on the Rights of Man.[1]  These advocates call these jurisdictions “asylum-free zones”[2] – Immigration Courts where almost no asylum applicant succeeds and which thus deny applicants a fair adjudication.

The advocates explained that U.S. Immigration Courts, which are administrative law courts run by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), exhibit severe disparities between jurisdictions in terms of defensive asylum grants to non-citizens in removal proceedings.  Legal scholars and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) have repeatedly documented these disparities.[3]  Whereas the average nationwide asylum grant rate is about 50%, in

Laurence R. Helfer and Ingrid B. Wuerth  
Customary International Law: An Instrument Choice Perspective

Catherine Renshaw
Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Uncovering the Dynamics of State Commitment and Compliance

Shana Tabak
Ambivalent Enforcement: International Humanitarian Law at Human Rights Tribunals
C. Elizabeth Bundy
Rescuing Policy and Terror Victims: A Concerted Approach to the Ransom Dilemma

Download Volume 37:4 at the Repository

Tiyanjana Maluwa
Oil Under Troubled Waters?: Some Legal Aspects of the Boundary Dispute Between Malawi and Tanzania Over Lake Malawi

Patrick J. Keenan
The Problem of Purpose in International Criminal Law

Aravind Ganesh

The European Union's Human Rights Obligations Towards Distant Strangers
Karima Tawfik
To Touch and Concern the United States with Sufficient Force: How American Due Process and Choice of Law Cases Inform the Reach of the Alien Tort Statute After Kiobel

Download Volume 37:3 at the Repository

Lakshmi Gopal
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
Can white extremists be challenged, without challenging the role of white ideology in international law?[1] As white nationalism achieves international visibility once more, this is a crucial question for all those interested in using international law to a craft a world that transcends, at the very least, race, gender, and class. In the past few weeks, white extremists across the world felicitated the results of the American presidential election as a sign of global resurgence of white nationalism.[2] While white supremacist ties to the American president-elect have sent shockwaves throughout the world,[3] the result and the widespread global presence of these forces should not come as a shock, but rather, must be properly understood as the product of the dominance of white supremacist jurisprudence in international law.[4] This discussion presents an overview of the origins and development of white jurisprudence, a description of its relationship to international law, an overview of the intellectual forces that resist it, as well as some thoughts on the role of international law in breaking cycles of supremacy.

White supremacy is the belief that the white ‘race’ is superior to all races, and that white ideologies and systems derived from the histories

Jessica (Tae Yean) Kim
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
On June 17, 2016, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-14, enacting a new federal law which legalized physician-assisted suicide (PSA) in Canada.[1] This new legislation makes Canada one of the few nations where doctors are lawfully permitted to help terminally ill people die.[2] An interesting aspect of the new law is that it excludes non-Canadians, preventing the prospect of suicide tourism from the U.S and elsewhere.[3] Suicide tourism which is often referred to as “death tourism” can be defined as the phenomenon of individuals traveling abroad in search of assisted dying.[4] The issue of “death tourism” has been so controversial that Swiss journalists coined the term “strebetourismus,” a German word for “death tourism” as Word of the Year for 2007.[5]

The United Kingdom is at the forefront of this global phenomenon.[6] According to the statistics from the University of Zurich, terminally ill British citizens formed the second largest group of European residents traveling abroad to Switzerland to die between 2008 and 2012.[7] English law strictly forbids citizens from seeking medical assistance to end their lives. England continues to have one of the most restrictive legal positions in Europe with respect to assisted suicide.[8] That

Lauren Kimmel
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
It’s hard to miss recent headlines about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which has stirred fresh controversy in a wide array of political, environmental and ethical circles. At the head of the opposition are a number of prominent Native American tribes in Iowa and the Dakotas – most notably, the Standing Rock Sioux.[1] The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies argue that construction of the pipeline will substantially compromise its own access to safe water, as well as the tribe’s historical rights to the territory.[2] The pipeline also raises a number of grave concerns about the environment, including “everything from farming and drinking water to entire ecosystems, wildlife and food sources.”[3] Additionally, there remain questions of wrongful use of eminent domain[4] and risks of oil leakage.[5]

In recent weeks, thousands of people have come out in opposition to the pipeline’s construction, with some assembling at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation – where construction of the “black snake” has already begun – in a gesture of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American groups.[6] The situation has escalated so dramatically that the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has sent human rights observers to

Adam Church
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
As financial service firms consider what kind of future may lie ahead in a post-Brexit market, one word has taken on a prominent role in the ongoing discussion: passporting.[1] Under passporting, financial services firms authorized in one E.U. member state can offer cross-border services and open branches across other member states, without needing to obtain additional regulatory approvals from local authorities.[2] Moreover, this benefit is not limited to U.K. firms; rather, many foreign firms maintain operations in London so that they too may gain passport rights to access the E.U. market.[3] To say that the city of London has prospered under this regime would be a gross understatement, as access to the E.U.’s single market has led London to become not only the financial center of Europe,[4] but one of the largest financial centers world-wide.[5] However, whether the London will continue to maintain its dominant position in the global financial market will likely depend heavily on the nature of the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade relationship with the E.U. In a report published on November 3, 2016, Barnabas Reynolds, partner and head of the global financial institutions advisory practice at Shearman & Sterling LLP, outlined four possibilities for

Nessma Bashi
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
As calls for democracy-building, freedom of expression, and the right to individual sovereignty were chanted by protesters throughout the Arab World in March of 2011, many Syrians were encouraged by the promise of popular power and headed to the streets to make their voices heard. What started as peaceful protests quickly culminated into a bloody civil war with no end in sight.

Nearly six years later, a United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria confirmed at least nine intentional mass killings by the Syrian Regime during the period of 2012 to mid July 2013.[1] The Assad regime has also been blamed for using chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against civilians and conducting torture and extrajudicial killings. The report details "indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombardment and shelling" which "led to mass civilian casualties and spread terror."[2]

The gruesome nature of the conflict in Syria now calls into question the effectiveness of legal conflict resolution, particularly given the veto power of the Permanent Five and the Security Council’s subsequent inability to intervene.[3] Adding another dimension to the conflict is Russia’s direct military involvement. As Russian airstrikes rain down, civilian casualties rise on a daily basis.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) presides

Xun Yuan
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced that it would start closing the world’s largest refugee camp – Dadaab camp. At the same time, the government determined, with the assistance of UNHCR, to speed up the expatriation process for Somali refugees who currently reside in the camp.[1]This puts Kenyan government in clear violation of international law.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Kenya is a signatory, provides “[n]o Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threated on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”[2] Such non-refoulement principle has been widely embraced by different states. Moreover, the African Union Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa – a Convention Kenya has ratified – grants refugees a broader protection and forbids a Contracting State to reject “at the frontier,” which usually entails the action of closing the border completely to refugees – an action that would consequently “compel him to remain in a territory where his life ... would be threatened.”[3]

There are two occasions in which States are allowed to “repatriate”

Sam Han
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
Under international law, “statelessness” is the status given to an individual without citizenship under the operation of any country’s laws.[1] In the United States, an estimated 35,000 intercountry adoptees currently do not possess U.S. citizenship,[2] and by definition, are considered stateless persons. By no fault of their own, many of these adoptees are not given citizenship because of clerical errors or the oversight of their adoptive parents.[3] This has significant legal ramifications, especially in contexts where these adoptees face deportation.[4]
While U.S. citizens with criminal convictions would not be stripped of their citizenships nor face deportation, adoptees who have habitually resided in the U.S. without citizenship are subject to deportation because the law has not yet addressed their precarious circumstances. Congress has attempted to rectify this concern and has proposed the Adoptee Citizenship Act, which grants citizenship to adoptees facing deportation. However, since its introduction in 2015, the Act has yet to gain steam and still leaves these adoptees in a predicament of having to leave a country they would not be forced to leave if they had citizenship.

Rather than anticipating congressional action for a remedy, one possible resolution for stateless adoptees might be to seek out

Rachel Barr
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
On October 5, The New York Times published a heart-wrenching article entitled “Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat.”[1] The piece contained one photographer’s story and photos from his time spent on a recue boat in the Mediterranean. It told of the desperation and fear of the migrants, and the shock he felt witnessing the rescue of survivors from packed, unseaworthy boats.[2]

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 3,654 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year.[3] Many of those making the crossing are fleeing conflict and persecution; a majority (51%) are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq, with others coming from East and West Africa, and other areas in the Middle East.[4]

With accounts of massively overcrowded boats[5] and lifejackets that aren’t buoyant,[6] the Mediterranean Sea crossing being attempted by thousands of migrants is a humanitarian disaster. We must not stand idly by. International law requires action in response to these horrific circumstances.

Following age-old maritime traditions, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) obliges that a ship master “render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being

Alejandra Salmeron Alfaro
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (“JASTA”) was passed by the Senate in May and the House in September of this year.[1] President Obama vetoed the Act on September 23rd.[2] In historic fashion, five days later Congress overrode Obama’s veto for the first time in his eight years as President.[3] The bill in question amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity.[4] Sovereign immunity, as defined by Congress, is a foreign state’s immunity from the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.[5] In more specific terms, the bill waives sovereign immunity protections for Saudi Arabia and allows victims of the September 11 attacks and their relatives to sue the Saudi government for allegedly aiding the hijackers.[6]

The override of Obama’s veto has caused domestic and international concern for a variety of reasons.[7] These include the possibility that the Act will backfire and bring suits from other countries against the United States, the potential repercussions for foreign relations, the implications for how the United States is perceived by the rest of the international community, and its clash with long standing international principles.[8]

The principle of sovereign immunity has been part of traditional domains of

Rebecca Hughes
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
On May 4, 2016, the European Union (EU) announced a new plan to address the massive influx of migrants.[1] The plan, called the Common European Asylum System,[2] was proposed to address flaws in the Dublin Regulation, Europe’s current asylum mechanism,[3] and create a fairer, more efficient, and more sustainable system.[4] The current system requires refugees to claim asylum in the first EU member state in which they arrive.[5] Refugees who do not do this, and later try to claim asylum in a different member state are deported back to their country of first arrival.[6] This system places a heavy burden on entry states, most specifically Greece in the current crisis.[7]

The new proposal, nicknamed “Dublin Plus”[8] as some have called it, introduces a corrective allocation mechanism, or fairness mechanism.[9] The mechanism makes mandatory an emergency provision.[10] Refugees are still required to claim asylum in the their country of first arrival, with the new policy coming into effect if a country receives one hundred and fifty percent more than its annual “fair share” (determined based on country size and population).[11] New applicants will then be relocated across all EU member states until the “fair share” level is reached.[12]

Ava Morgenstern
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
International human rights law is unfashionable this year. Right-of-center politicians in the United States and United Kingdom, exploiting fears of migration and terrorism, have attacked international institutions as out of touch with local populations. Entrepreneurs of populist nationalism frame elite globalist bureaucrats as detached from ordinary citizens. This rhetoric however may have a short shelf life. Though older voters – who tend to vote more – distrust international law, younger voters – who show up at the polls less – feel much more favorably. In the long-term, this generational gap may sharply change public opinion and thus the work of international lawyers and policymakers.

Throughout 2016, major politicians have elevated national sovereignty and attacked international human rights law. In the United States, Donald Trump aligns himself with leaders who discount international norms in favor of sovereignty and expansive military power, most notably Vladimir Putin.[1] He explicitly rejects the United Nations (UN) by alleging it is not democratic, not effective, and not aligned with U.S. interests.[2] A few weeks before the Presidential election, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights called Trump “dangerous from an international point of view.”[3]

Trump’s major critique of international legal norms regards wartime conduct.

Albi Kocibelli
Vol. 38 Associate Editor
Sovereign immunity, while being forum dependent, has been recognized as an obligation under customary international law for long time.[1] The International Law Commission first took the task to identify and codify state practice on sovereign immunity in 1978.[2] After nearly three decades of work UN adopted the UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property in 2004.[3] The Convention, not yet in force, adopts a restrictive theory of immunity. The restrictive theory is adhered to by most countries, except for a few countries such as Russia or China. While the schism between absolute and restrictive immunity is accepted in the literature, there are quite a few questions left on how much can immunity be restricted.[4]

Generally, commercial activities of states have been the most significant exception to the rule.[5] Besides that, exceptions to immunity for non-commercial torts have been limited to insurable personal risks occurring locally in the forum state (e.g. traffic accidents, slip and falls).[6] However, there has been controversy over the extent of the application especially in cases where the extent of damages is greater. In this regard, one of the most recent cases adjudicated by the IJC in 2012 is Jurisdictional Immunities

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