Thursday, November 30, 2006

A fourth Christmas dinner in Cambridge

Where has the time gone? I cannot believe I've not blogged in two months. Oh, wait, that would simply be yet another hectic Michaelmas term.

I have spent, it seems, the whole term churning out job interviews, teaching and trying to finish a first draft of the final PhD chapter (slow, slow, progress).

Of course, there's also been a trip to Paris with Zoe's parents, a trip to Cardiff for a job interview and being treasurer of two student clubs (one theatre, one wine tasting).

Anyway, I was grateful to have made it to Christmas dinner with sanity more or less intact. It was another brilliantly English four-and-a-half course affair, with drinks in the master's lodge beforehand, and raucous conversation in the MCR over the last of the wine afterwards.

Some of the new grad students seemed a little startled by the tradition of tables just randomly commencing Christmas carols, and the fact that it's compulsory to stand and toast the line "five gold rings" when singing Twelve Days of Christmas.

Anyway, there is much else to report from the term, including my first ever surprise birthday party and the fact I am looking at moving for the 10th time since 2000, but that will have to wait.

I have tickets for a Christmas carol service, you see ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sudan and the International Criminal Court

It now seems that the 7,000 strong African Union force in Darfur will remain in the Sudan with additional UN support and equipment until the end of the year.

However, it remains a "central plank of Sudan's foreign and domestic policy" to reject an expanded UN presence. Partially, this may be to allow the Sudanese government to pursue a military solution in the Sudan, unhindered by a larger, better-funded UN force with more robust rules of engagement.

In a particularly cheap ploy Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has suggested that the UN has a colonial agenda, when it is quite clear from the text of the UN Security Council Resolution that any peace-keeping force will only be deployed with Sudan's consent.

The disingenuous nature of the claim is further belied by the fact that Sudan has already admitted 10,000 UN peacekeepers in the South.

Are Sudan's leaders just making political capital from the UN and stalling for time to finish what they've started? Doubtless, but there may be other considerations at play.

As international lawyers, we are often reluctant - as David Kennedy has pointed out - to face up to the idea that our high ideals may have unintended consequences.

The International Criminal Court has been requested by the UN Security Council to investigate whether to lay charges for crimes against humanity against persons involved in the Sudanese civil wars.

The Sudanese government has taken this development seriously enough to establish its own war crimes court, presumably in an effort to block ICC jurisdiction.

The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes of individual responsibility at international law (where the territorial State is unwilling or unable to prosecute them, unless the UN Security Council grants it broader powers).

Critically, the UN Secretary General has warned the Sudanese leadership "may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the people of Darfur if they allow the African Union (AU) mission there to leave and then refuse access to United Nations peacekeepers".

It's not much of a leap to conclude that the Sudanese President is not entirely off-base in:
... liken[ing] the prospect [of U.N. force deployment] to an invasion force whose goal is regime change. Analysts say the government in Khartoum fears U.N. forces would arrest suspects likely to be named in any war crimes warrants issued by the International Criminal Court.

I want to be very clear: I am a supporter of the ICC. I believe it has a potentially important role to play in ensuring that there is individual accountability for crimes against humanity. However, when referring an investigation to the ICC is used a substitute for taking real and effective action, we risk making things worse, not better.

Anyone who though an ICC investigation was necessary to establish crimes against international law are being committed in the Sudan clearly did not have a newspaper to hand. The referral was clearly a political act. (I am not, however, suggesting the ICC's investigations are anything less than rigorous and impartial.)

International law will not prevent violence and death in Darfur any more than criminal law prevents murder within our own countries. Only policing will. The only way to get a policing force into the Sudan is negotiation (especially as western powers seem to lack the stomach for a hard-line military deployment that really would be tantamount to an invasion force bent on regime change).

It's very difficult to negotiate with someone once you've initiated an independent prosecution against them and theirs. Legal prosecution makes a poor political bargaining chip because once initiated, it's hard to call off.

Referring the Sudanese "situation" to the ICC was a poor substitute for action that may now make what was always going to be a very difficult negotiated settlement next to impossible.

At best, the Security Council should have sent the ICC in after a peace-keeping force, not ahead of it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A non-Roman holiday

Photos from an amazing trip are over here.

I also have tales of random madness involving bicycle maintenance and more serious thoughts on international law I might get round to blogging soon.

In the meantime, here's a photo from Cinque Terre ...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Not sleeping, working real hard ...

Okay, I know the blog has stalled (once again).

My excuse it that I apparently have most of a PhD. I had a terrifically encouraging meeting with my supervisor last Wednesday, in advance of which I thought, "Hang on, what have I got written?"

So I prepared a little table of potential chapter titles, research papers/drafts I'd already written that would fit, and a total word count.

It appears I have a rough draft that lacks an introduction, conclusion and has only half a final chapter. I still have 129,000 words towards a 100,000 word thesis.

"I'm glad it's only 129,000 words," my supervisor said. "You've been writing at a rate of knots and I'd expected more."

He glanced at my list of issues for a final, wrapping-up chapter and said: "I think you should focus on what's necessary to complete, not everything that will eventually go into the book."

That was the first mention of the B-Word in a supervision meeting. (Eeek.)

Anyway, the push is on to finish the stuff I'm working on, so I can then survey the sprawling meandering mass of my draft and identify what to ditch. (Hopefully, a lot of fisheries law.)

I'm on track to finish early; which is exciting enough that I want to press on.

Especially given that I'm going to Italy Thursday of next week for a thoroughly undeserved break.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Prison ships for illegal fisherman

I've just posted over at Ozelaw on the Australian Federal Government's plan to detain Indonesian fisherman caught in Australian waters at sea.

The distressing part about the present practice of detaining fishermen aboard their boats in Darwin harbour is that it has resulted in two deaths through lack of supervision of the detainees. Illegal fishing is certainly a crime, but it doesn't deserve the death penalty. There has been little focus in the initial media coverage on how this innovation might actually improve detainee conditions.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Movin’, movin’, movin’

(New desk, click for bigger image)

I’ve often blogged about how often I move. However, the last two years in Cambridge I managed to stay in the same building and just upgrade rooms. Easiest move ever: just prop two doors open and carry everything up a flight of stairs.

Now, though, I’ve finally done it. Private accommodation, outside the sheltering womb of college and onto the UK rental market. After looking at some total dives, I got lucky. There’s a flat just behind the law faculty that’s been handed down through a few generations of Trinity Hall PhD students now. The location is ideal, the rent is very good and the carpets … well, let’s not talk about the carpets.

The flat is, a rarity for Britain, let without furniture. The system that’s evolved is incoming flatmates pay the out-goer for their room furnishing and the communal bits and bobs, then add and subtract as they see fit.

I immediately wanted to subtract a desk (huge, government issue, ugly with heavy metal filing drawers), a small wardrobe with vanity (less than 30 centimetres rail space) and a chest of drawers. The drawers were amusing. You could open three of four on any given day, but with few guarantees as to which. (“Right, I’m just about ready to go out … but it seems my socks and underwear are not. Hmm …”)

So I hit the local Salvation Army store where the finest in Cambridge’s veteran and slightly scarred furniture turns up. I found a big sturdy wardrobe, an impulse-buy armchair and a mock-Edwardian, seven-drawer writing desk. The nice people there even said they’d take away my old furniture as a donation (and, frankly, a kindness) when they delivered.

I paid up and turned to leave when I saw the fateful sign: “It is your responsibility to check furniture will fit through your doors.”

I measured the width of my new desk. About 80 centimetres and thought of the narrow front door to the new flat. “It’ll be fine,” I thought.

Getting home, I measured the back of the door, 81 cm, and sighed with relief.

Then realised the door has a thickness. Opened, the thickness of the door would have to be subtracted from the width of the frame. I measured the door's thickness, 4 cm.

“It’ll be fine!” I thought, not very convinced.

Next day the Salvo’s arrived and genially hauled my first piece up the stairs: the desk. Lining it up with door, it just wouldn’t go through. It couldn’t be angled around as the stairway was too tight, the door opened into a tiny vestibule and the desk’s sides were solid.

“Um,” I said in desperation, “if you lend me a screwdriver, I’ll take the front door off its hinges.”

So, they schlepped to and fro with furniture old and new(er), while I removed the front door and parked it inside.

The desk was heaved up again, rotated on its side and gently eased towards the door frame. And stopped.

“Just needs another quarter of an inch,” one of the deliverers said. “Tell you what. Take the screwdriver and see if you can get the top off.”

Fortunately, it looked like this had been done before: a variety of screws secured the writing surface on only three sides. With the top off, it slid through. Just.

“You like this because it had character, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” I answered sheepishly, “I guess I just didn’t realise how much.”

“Hmm. Do you want us to stay while you reassemble that, or are you going to buy a screwdriver?”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

May Week once more

Any week that ends with you having the champagne (well, Cava) stains dry-cleaned out of your pale linen suit has to be May Week.

For those who've not been lurking around this blog that long, or have but haven't paid much attention, May week is a week in June that celebrates the end of the academic year with Pimms-drenched garden parties and stay-til-dawn College balls.

This year I hit the garden party circuit harder, and kept myself to one college ball, going to the Caius (say "keys") Ball with a group of PhD mates.

That said, I may be getting old and jaded. I was feeling tired after just two days of steady-but-never-roaring-drunk drinking and pushinng on until dawn at the Caius ball felt particularly rough between about 2.30 and 4 am.

However, once dawn started to break around 4 (it hadn't been properly dark until 9.30 anyway) I perked up remarkably and went in search of a black coffee and steak sandwich. (As opposed to the mixture of voda and fruit juice that got me through the chill morning that followed the Jesus Ball last year.)

Caius is a gorgeous college and it was a good night (a photo of the college at dawn to the left).

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't 100% with us. A light misting rain was falling a lot of the night. It was that typically English rain that if you stood out in it long enough would never be heavy enough to soak you through, but you would start to grow moss. It was mostly only visible in the spotlights, but did put a dampner (no pun ...) on the outdoor activities.

Even the music venue tent wasn't totally spared: a gust of wind could send water crashing off its non-existent eaves onto anyone unfortunate enough to be at the fringes.

Still, good food, drink, company and some memorable comedy and music acts in a wonderful setting. Even if the dining room of the Senior Parlour looked mock Greco-Roman in a Las Vegas kind of a way ...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Fun in the sun in France

So Monday I got back from five glorious days in the South of France. I won’t bore you with too many details, just photos.

The basic day consisted of rising around 10 for a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt bread and honey. We'd then leave the house at the crack of noon, and zip off to stand in a ruined Cathar fortress on a mountain ridge for a bit, going “Oooh, pretty.”

This was usually followed shortly by, “Right. Where shall we go for lunch?”

This in turn lead to several hours of eating far too much and washing it down with litres of Rosé, before crawling home for a nap and a late cheese-platter dinner.

It was great to see Beth, Peter and Jasmine and Clay in particular was an absolute legend for doing all the driving. This really was the neglected Southeast of France where doing anything definitely required a car.

In fact, we were so far off the backpacker and American tourist trail that the village where we stayed wasn’t even listed in Wikipedia or google!

The low tourist population was probably just as well, as few of the ruins we went to seemed very strict about safety. You knew something had to be really dangerous if anyone had bothered to install a hand-rail, safety fence or warning sign.

My French even held up to a conversation with an old guy in the markets at Narbonne about what a nice hat I was wearing. There’s even a photo of me in it over here.

The only downside was I couldn’t find anywhere to check my bags for my last solo day in Perpignan before my Ryanair flight home, and lugging them around felt rather heavy – especially when I was also probably carrying some surplus food. I must’ve eaten eight days worth of food in five …

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Washing my underwear for France

Well, okay, maybe I should rephrase that. I doubt France has a terribly keen interest in my underwear.

I, however, after a day of fun-filled excitement at the IMO library now am packing for a five-day jaunt to France.

(Don’t knock the IMO, by the way, their headquarters are right by the Thames and they have a cafeteria with a roof garden with a stunning view of Westminster.)

Predictably, like all last-minute packers everywhere, I was short of underwear.

Anyway, that small crisis of hand-washing dealt with, I am travelling light, light, light. Just me, a day-pack and my ambiguously hand-bag-like, yet-still-manly shoulder-bag. No checked luggage for me!

I’m headed to Perpignan to join the Beth travel extravaganza in Padern for a bit. Should be awesome.

See you in a week, if I remember I still sort of have a blog.

PS The photo was from my IMO day trip, taken on the Albert Embankment, where I also saw (but stupidly forgot to take a photo) Met Police officers on mountain bikes practicing cycling down stairs, to the bemusement and delight of passing Japanese tourists.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Official charity plug: "Walk with a Rose"

The observant would have noticed the "official charity" bit I added to my sidebar last week. The curious might have asked "Walk with a Rose, what's all that about?"

"Walk with a Rose" was set up in my home town, Canberra.

It is an eight-week long walk from Brisbane to Canberra by Amy Banson to raise awareness of, and money for, acquired brain injury (ABI).

ABI refers to any brain injury acquired after birth, usually as a result of an accident.

It can result in symptoms such as memory and concentration problems, dependency, irritability, poor problem solving skills and depression. These may be mistaken for being lazy, childish or just hard to get along with.

What's important to realise is that people with a brain injury might exhibit no physical symptoms and still be unable to work or look after themselves.

The short of it is, over 340 000 Australians have an acquired brain injury, of these over 160 000 need daily assistance in living.

The majority of these, even the most profoundly disabled, will be cared for by loved ones at home.

Obviously, carers need a break, and there's a lot that could be done to expand respite care provision - especially at the best facilities that can offer Australians with brain injuries a genuine holiday themselves.

The aim of Walk with a Rose is to raise money to help pay for new facilities at existing respite care centres so more carers can get a break.

The walk's already attracted corporate support from ACTEW/AGL in Canberra and the endorsement of the National Brain Injury Foundation.

So if you were thinking of giving something to charity in the near future,
do consider the "Walk with a Rose" campaign.

More details and on-line donations at:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An international lawyer and his pirate kangaroo.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Something of an inglorious start to the cricket season.

There is an unfortunate assumption in England that all Australians know how to play cricket. Fortunately for me the standard for entry into the Trinity Hall graduate cricket team is: “Have you eve caught a moving object?”

In the sense that it is vital a team have an eleventh man to be allowed to play, I am vital.

In fairness, I’m not a bad fielder. Not a particularly good one either. I can’t bowl, and can generally just about block a ball with a bat. My best contributions are probably made in close proximity to the score-board, or zealously guarding the boundary line from balls that slip past the inner ring of fielders.

Still, I like the standing about out doors, the occasional running, the ebb and flow of the game and the really devastatingly excellent afternoon teas put on by our MCR stewards and treasurer and usually billed as “as big as the whole world!”

Which would be true, if the world were made entirely of cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and cream and Pimms mixed according to our treasurer’s secret recipe.

So you’ll imagine things are looking a bit grim if I’m sent in to bat. In our first game Sunday against Churchill college, we bowled first and were set a chaseable target of 122 from 20 overs.

Unfortunately, we suffered a bit of a mini-collapse, and while the run rate was on target, we were going through batsmen.

When I was one of the last three on the bench I headed out to the nets for a warm-up.

Ludicrously, my legs were too thin to do the pads up with the Velcro and I had to tie the straps in a knot. Still, I had fun in the nets, and by the final over was never expecting to hear the call.

Then, on the third ball of the final over we lost a batsman. The score was 121. One run to tie, two to win, three balls remaining as I trudged out to the pitch.

Our penultimate batsman was facing the bowler. With three balls left, I figured anything he hit might require running. So I edged forward from my crease, sort of forgetting it was his job to call the runs.

A nice straight block sent the ball back down the pitch towards me, where a quick-witted fielder took it, saw me out of my crease, and pegged it at the stumps.

A lunge with my bat was, lamentably, not enough to save my ignoble 45 seconds on the pitch.

Still, at least everyone on the team – and I do mean just about everyone – was courteous enough to think the result close enough that it was some decisive personal contribution of their own that had sealed the defeat.

A good game though, and a great result for Churchill who were so short of players last year that I was sent in to bat for them …

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why have I not been blogging of late? Well, frankly the weather has been too good. I've been trying to work dilligently through to the early afternoon (a point between 3 and 6 pm depending on the dilligence and virtue of friends) and then hit a beer garden.

Anyway, mostly for my mother I've put some photos of the flowers and blossom where I live under 2006 Spring at Wychfield.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to prepare to give an international law tutorial on the lawn outside ...

Monday, May 1, 2006

Darfur: background to the conflict in the Sudan

The high-water mark for peace prospects in Sudan probably came in 2004 with an agreement between the UN and the Sudanese government that it would disarm militias and facilitate humanitarian aid efforts. Eventually, 2000 African Union troops were deployed to the Darfur region. However, peace talks between the government and the two rebel factions (the Movement for Justice and Equality and the Sudanese Liberation Army) have consistently stalled over disarmament.

Two years of hand-wringing later and the UN has managed only limited sanctions against Sudanese leaders and a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court. The ICC, of course, will not be able to act until after the dust has settled – having no power or ability to swoop in and seize suspects.

The stalemate arises from the fact that the Sudanese government won’t allow UN peacekeepers in until a peace agreement with the rebel factions has been signed.

According to the New York Times, the UN Security Council doesn’t want to send a force in as a compulsory measure under Chapter VII for a number of reasons. First, China and Russia would not support such a move. Both China and Russia have strong economic links with Sudan, especially China which accounts for 64% of Sudanese exports and 10% of its imports. Second, there has not exactly been a rush to volunteer peacekeeping troops by the international community.

But what are the origins of the conflict? Typically, the Guardian has an excellent interactive timeline and Le Monde has quite a good summary of more recent events.

Sudan is ethnically, religiously and linguistically divided between a predominantly Arab/Muslim north and an African/Christian (and Animist) South. In Darfur province in the Northwest the janjaweed militia (basically government proxies) have been attempting to drive out ethnic Africans. There are many internally displaced persons as a result, and many international refugees who have crossed into Chad.

The situation has certainly heightened Chad/Sudan tension, with both sides accusing the other of supporting anti-government rebel groups within its territory.

While there were Christians in the Sudan area in the sixth century, the present conflict probably has nineteenth century roots. In 1882 a rebellion expelled Egyptian and British colonial rule and established a strict Islamic state; the rebellion was only suppressed by the colonizers in 1889. Sudan was then jointly administered by Egypt and the UK until its independence in 1956.

Promises of self-rule for the south within a federal system were reneged upon by the new independence government sparking civil war from 1955 to 1972. The war was rekindled in 1983 following the imposition of Sharia law on non-Islamic people in the South. Another possible reason for the central government’s reluctance to relinquish any control of the South is that it holds 75% of Sudanese oil fields.

That said, the present rebels in Darfur (the northwest) are a somewhat separate issue from the old North-South civil war, except insofar as the conflict has clear ethnic overtones with Arab militias (backed by an Arab government) attempting to displace the African locals.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Turkish Star Wars

Allegations of copyright infringement in popular culture are ever with us. The basic idea behind copyright being that you can't copyright an idea, only a reasonably detailed and concrete expression of an idea.

This is the most obvious reason the Da Vinci Code case failed: the idea that Christ may have married Mary Magdelene and fathered a line of French kings, while certainly not first Dan Brown's, was scarcely an idea subject to copyright.

Those who did undergraduate intellectual property, however, would probably remember a classic case falling the other side of the line - the Italian re-make of "Jaws". This resulted in the Australian case Universal City Studios v Zeccola, where it was held (for the purposes of an urgent injunction) there was an arguable case of copying.

The judge at first instance, in the words of the appeal court, "with some
degree of fortitude, viewed both films, one after the other
" before ruling for the makers of "Jaws".

With considerably more fortitude I settled down to watch "Turkish Star Wars", perhaps one of the best bad foreign films imaginable. Actually, it's so bad as to be beyond imagination, so just go watch it - if you can find a copy, which will be hard for reasons I'll mention later.

The titles alone say it all. Some of them are visibly painted on cardboard and "faded out" by the simple expedient of rushing them towards the camera and off to the left.

It begins with a monologue that's incomprehensible, even with the aid of subtitles, uttered over a backdrop of footage of early NASA launches and random bits of Star Wars space-fight footage mashed together. Unfortunately not enough footage, so what they have they loop three times (a money-stretching trick this production crew ain't too proud to use over and over again).

We then have fighter pilots, who appear to be standing either in front of TV screens or a back projection of more Star Wars space-battle footage, in motorcycle helmets.

Our heroes are then shot down and land, apparently, on the evil over-lord's planet. They must defeat him before he can penetrate the shield of projected brain-molecules that defends the earth. (At least I think that was what was going on.) Along they way they must save the oppressed locals from his evil army of chubby skeleton warriors, dudes in halloween masks, mummies, guys in tin man costumes, giant muppets with bad claws, and an eight foot yeti thing that seems to flail victims to death with streamers.

Moments to watch for:

- crashing your space-fighter in such a way it disintegrates, but you crawl from a sand-dune unharmed!

- kicks that land nowhere near the bad-guys but send 'em sprawling!

- "Ouch, that hurts!" moments when it becomes painfully apparent there are no stunt doubles

- when care bears attack! Men in giant pink bear suits attack children with their cardboard claws!

- a devastating mystical sword, obviously made of cardboard and shaped like lightning!

- our hero, trapped and bound to feindish devices by ... telephone cords!

- evil sorcerous villains, drinking their victim's blood through a bendy straw!

- that yellow, swirling special effect: when it turns up, it spells trouble!

Best of all, when the evil villain is sliced in half: "This is one of the more tricky visuals from the Turkish effects wizards: he is filmed while one half of his body is in shadows, then they go to a shot of him with the other half of his body in shadows. It seems impossible, but both halves of him ended up with his whole nose."

The reason you'll have trouble tracking this gem down? In a delicious result for a film made with no concern for copyright (it's soundtrack is composed of scraps from Indiana Jones and Flash Gordon, too) it is only available on bootleg DVD ...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh Canada!

Presently in Vancouver, staying with M and K. I arrived at the end of quite a long journey that started at 5 am in Philadelphia (or 2 am Vancouver time) and ended with getting into Vancouver on a bus from Seattle airport after 6 pm. Much cheaper, though much longer, to cross the border by land if you can afford the time.

Other than catching up with old friends, indigenous art has featured pretty high on the agenda. The Anthropology Museum has an astonishing collection of memorial (ie burial) boxes, door posts, potlach masks and totem poles. The symbolic depictions of real and mythical animals are enormously striking. Also, fortunately for my white middle-class guilt complex, they seem to have a very healthy relationship with the local first nations at the Museum; so these artefacts are largely voluntarily placed with the museum, not a monument to looting.

I've also rapidly come to appreciate Vancouver fashion sense. It rains a fair bit here and winter is long. Aboout 97% of people outdoors are wearing jeans and sneakers and either a North Face fleece or a waterproof jacket of some desciption. The other 3% are wearing jeans, black boots or slip-on leather shoes/clogs and a quilted jacket.

No wonder everyone can pick me a mile off as "visiting" in my jeans with (shock!) a red wool jumper and tan linen jacket.

Still, M and me were mistaken for a gay couple methinks by a couple of private gallery owners when we were wandering around town this afternoon. Quite amusing to be treated as serious potential buyers. Especially on my income.


My time in Philly was also brief, but well spent. Major highlights of my stay with Im the archaeologist were the local Art Museum and the Liberty Bell centre. Sorry, "center". The Musuem is a gobsmackingly impressive pile built along late-Roman empire lines, with a healthy dose of ziggurat thrown in for good measure.

The main foyer looks like the steps could comfortably lead off to an area reserved for human sacrifice, but is dominated by a huge sculpture of Artemis (or Diana or some other Roman goddess with a bow) who apparently used to be a weather vane. Weighing, I would guess, a good half a tonne. Always important to know from which direction your hurricane-force winds are blowing.

In a lovely counterpoint, a huge white Alexander Calder sculpture hung from the ceiling. I dragged Im through the French Impressionists, she gave me the medieval high-lights tour and showed me where bits of Thai and Chinese temples, along with European monastic courtyards and Japanese tea-houses, had been artfully reassembled. (Hurrah for looting!).

The Liberty Bell exhibit was really well thought through, and a good introduction to the history of the object. Among other things, I learned that it was only renamed the "Liberty" Bell when its symbolism was taken up by the anti-slavery movement.

It also struck me, for the first time, that the opening paragraphs of the declaration of independence are actually a brilliant exposition of the principle of self-determination at international law as we now understand it. (Well, more or less.) Hardly surprising, given that it was drafted by so many lawyers.

Right, nap time.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Taking international law on the road

Spring had finally sprung in Cambridge on the Thursday of week before last. I could cycle without gloves and beanie, the daffodils were out and so, increasingly, was the sun.

What a fool I was to think that was Spring.

I'm currently blogging from a front porch in Washington DC, where it's been positively balmy since I arrived. Sunny, 20 degrees plus, and blossom on all the trees. There has been one - ONE! - cloudy day in the week since I arrived.

I need to move back to a warmer climate.

Anyway, blogging has been interrupted by the madcap antics of the American Society of International Law annual conference and my research trip. Okay, so "madcap antics" really doesn't describe ASIL.

Like any conference there were amazing, stimulating and thought provoking panels; and those that left you asking: "How the hell did you get invited to speak?"

I also had a great two-hour meeting at the State Department today about international fisheries law. (Tomorrow I talk about drug smuggling with the Coast Guard.)

Still, the real experience has been staying with friends in Washington DC's north-west. Over here, near T and 5th, my hosts are among a gentrification influx. The neighborhood around has a fine heritage, but not perhaps the best track-record on safety and criminal behavior. (One of my hosts has been mugged, late at night, on his own doorstep).

Basically, when walking around here you're liable to be the lone white guy: certainly a different feeling for me to be part of a visible minority. Once you cross 13th street though, the racial balance visibly shifts - and by the time you hit Georgetown, there are almost no black faces.

Still, even as the hopelessly naive gangly white guy off to a conference or meetings in a tie and suit jacket, I've felt quite at ease. Everyone is terribly friendly and helpful.

Okay, a nasty storm is breaking. Time to take this indoors and off-line.

Blogging will be pretty erratic over the next two weeks. Next stop: Philadelphia!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lawyers, wildlife and metaphors

Funniest opening for a professional article I’ve read in a while:
“Most lawyers do not spend a lot of time camping in the wilderness, and probably very few have ever come face-to-face with a cougar. But confronted with that situation, any good lawyer would know in a flash that it is essential to escape without getting eaten. Risk management and goal assessment are among the profession's most indispensable skills.”

If you’ve ever gone on a hike in the States without memorising “16 different anticougar gambits” prior to departure you’re clearly not a litigator.

It’s all from piece by Steven Lubet in American Lawyer about lawyers and their excessively risk-averse and detail-obsessed behaviour, or as he puts it “cougar-spotting”.

How to tell the difference between obsessive time-wasting that pads a client’s bill, and catching the trick that’s going to cost your client a bundle?

Where a safety-first mentality has become redundant is clear in “over-lawyered” contractual clauses using every possible synonym for debt.

(“Hey Tony. This wise guy says because his contract wit’ us covers ‘arrears, bills, checks, chits, claims, commitments, damages, debentures, debits, dues, dues, incumbrances, invoices, liabilities, manifests, mortgages, notes, obligations, outstandings, receipts, tabs, tallies and vouchers’, his ‘gambling markers’ are excluded. Whaddya say?”)

The ordinarily useful attention to detail is demonstrated by a, for example “a ‘risk of loss’ provision [in real estate transactions], in case the property burns down between the contract signing and the closing date. That doesn't happen very often, but it's a cougar when it does.”

But then we have that fabulous anecdote, the one time payoff that justifies (or provokes) a lifetime of obsessive behaviour:
“A litigation partner at a large Chicago law firm told me that he always personally examines the handwriting on the significant documents in his cases, whether or not there is an allegation of fraud. That may seem pretty aggressive (and time-consuming), but he once noticed that two signatures-one on a letter and the other on a promissory note-seemed virtually identical, down to the last squiggle. Consulting a handwriting expert, he learned that no two signatures are ever exactly alike, unless one has been copied or traced. And sure enough, it turned out that a crucial letter had been forged. That successful bit of cougar hunting saved his client a couple of million dollars, and he has been diligently comparing signatures ever since.”

That’s why you’d hire a corporate lawyer, and why many sane people aren’t interested in being one. (Why didn’t the client notice the damn forgery?)

Still, it exemplifies nicely the trust no-one mentality of many law firm partners.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Why do women leave law firms?

A recent NY Times piece is asking the right questions, but is frustratingly slim on answers.
“People explain it simply as the fact that women have children, but so many other factors play into it … ”

Great, what are those factors? Well, they mostly seem to be poorly defined and explored intangibles.

The “roadblocks” seemingly include “errant mentoring, opaque networking opportunities, low-grade case assignments or arbitrary male control of key management committees”.

But then we’re back to discussing the:
“ ‘maternal wall’ on female lawyers … built on the unstated assumption among male partners that women who return to firms after having children will automatically be less willing to work hard …”
Okay, accounting firms apparently do better:
“Deloitte & Touche … has promoted and retained women by offering flexible working schedules, leadership development and career planning programs, and transparent and dedicated mentoring ... Deloitte also maintains generous sabbatical policies and outreach practices so that women who depart the firm to raise children have an easier time re-entering the work force — and rejoining Deloitte — when they are ready to do so.”
This sounds great, but is not explored in any more detail. So what’s the bottom line problem with law firms? Billable hours. Quelle surprise.
“Research … has also identified an inflexible, billable-hours regime as an obstacle to job satisfaction for both sexes, a trend that is more pronounced among the most recent crop of law school graduates.”

“… analysts says [billable hours are] increasingly cropping up as an issue for male lawyers as well ... Billing by the hour requires lawyers to work on a stopwatch so their productivity can be tracked minute by minute — and so clients can be charged accordingly. Over the last two decades, as law firms have devoted themselves more keenly to the bottom line, depression and dissatisfaction rates among both female and male lawyers has grown … many lawyers of both genders have found their schedules and the nature of their work to be dispiriting.”

Try downright depressing. One female colleague described her first two years in a law firm as “monkey work”: an intellectually unexciting hard slog a chimp could perform.

But wait, suddenly the key problem isn’t gendered? It’s just billable hours? At some levels this seems plausible, but only if you assume some men simply don’t notice not having a life beyond work, and hence more men stick around to make partner.

So, how did one successful two-partner marriage balance work and family, especially with one child with a learning disability?
“[They] engineered this by cutting back on their social calendar, sharing household chores and making sure that at least one parent was home for dinner most nights.”
Good on them for making it work, but forgive me if I think this vision of an absentee household staffed by help and family seems a bit grim. Yet this is the best life in a law firm can offer.

One quote that really rang true?
“Law firms like to talk about running the firm like a business … but they’re running on an institutional model that's about 200 years old … Most law firms do a horrible job of managing their personnel, in terms of training them and communicating with them.”
Indeed, their sink or swim mentality coupled with a business model that assumes a 30% staff churn rate has little need for retention or engagement with its “fee earners”. The day firms acknowledge they have an actively failing human resources model is the day any of this may change, for men or women.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A hard week’s dining

Looking back over my blog, I’ve had surprisingly few entries about black tie dinners. Then again, even in the course of the usual end of term madness I’ve seldom been out to this many formal dinners.

The dining score-card for 8 to 15 March 2006 would read:

Total number of dinners out: 5, of which three were black tie dinners (one with academic gown), one with suit and tie, and the last a quite dinner with a mate.

Looking back, I came out of the gates too fast.

At the last “regular” grad hall of term on Wednesday the 8th, I had two friends come along from the Blind Wine Tasting Society. We rather lost sight (ha ha) of the fact that “blind tasting” is meant to be about sophisticated wine appreciation – not getting, well, blind.

Three people, four bottles, multiple car pile-up of hilarity ensues - lasting until 3 am that morning. My hangover, however, lasted much longer.

After a brief respite, on Friday it came time to dust the lapels of my tux, sponge the mud from the inner leg (didn’t I dry-clean this last time? no matter) and trot off to the undergraduate law society at St Catherine’s College annual dinner.

The observant will have noticed I am neither an undergraduate nor at Catz.

I was invited by my students as an external supervisor. I was touched to be asked, but flattered when I realised how few “externals” get invited to a lovely dinner for only about 30 people.

I could only suppose that to be invited you had to be regarded either as important or cool. As I’m not even remotely important, it seems my teaching style may have rendered me popular. A theory confirmed by being one of only two or so “oldies” encouraged to head over to the Catz bar afterwards – which mercifully had stopped serving alcohol.

Saturday saw me hand washing my one formal shirt and heading off to the feast of St Edward King and Martyr – yes, really – at Trinity Hall. This was my college’s thank-you dinner to those who’ve supervised (tutored) Hall students over the year. Three courses (including a fabulous saddle of Spring lamb) with wine, a cheese course, a digestive break where you stand and go into another room, then chocolates and fruit with claret, dessert wine port and coffee.

Afterwards the remainder of the wine, along with scotch and, oddly, beer was on offer in the Senior Combination Room – and it was good scotch.

Highlights of the evening included finding myself chatting with real enthusiasm about how my students were getting on, and the odd jibe about having been one of the elect invited to the Catz dinner.

Tuesday I headed out on the town with a friend who’s been to busy helping to write a UN report on top of her PhD to be seen much this term. After a decent dinner at the chain bar “Bar Ha Ha”, we repaired to the bar at Trinity Hall for our second bottle of vino and law chat.

Which kept me nicely in form for the black tie graduates end of term dinner at Trinity Hall on Wednesday, at which I neither drank excessively nor stayed out too late. No, really.

Anyway, so much to say that if I haven’t been blogging, it’s because I’ve been too busy eating.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

When the West Wing Fails You

Other than the odd burst of mindless flag waving, I love “The West Wing”. So, I was sitting down watching season four tonight, the episode where they decide – a little belatedly – to take legal advice on the consequences of assassinating a terrorist leader.

A terrorist leader who also happens to be an accredited diplomat to the US.

The discussion runs something like this.

President Martin Sheen: “Article 51 of the UN Charter allows a nation to wage war in self-defence.”

Lawyer: “The article is predicated on openly declared wars.”

Pres: “The world doesn’t work like that anymore.”

Lawyer: “The law does … this could be a war crime.”

No, no, no, no! Bad Aaron Sorkin, bad bad man!

Admittedly, I just supervised undergrads on this stuff, so maybe I have a bee in my bonnet.

Anyway: the UN Charter does not require declarations of war. Article 51 does not even mention war. It talks of an “inherent right of … self-defence if an armed attack occurs.”

Can you claim self-defence against terrorism? Well, it’s controversial. But I’d say after the Security Council in Resolutions 1368 and 1373 recognised the US’s right to act in self-defence following September 11, the answer has to be “yes”.

How far that right extends is a question for another blog.

The idea that law is graven is stone, anachronistically resistant to change and irrelevant to current concerns is also wrong. There is some scope for progressive re-interpretation of the Charter’s meaning in light of subsequent practice.

For example: there is, strictly speaking, no “veto” in the Security Council under the Charter. Certain votes require the “concurring vote” of all five permanent members. So there's at best a default veto: even an abstention by a P5 member should torpedo a motion requiring a “concurring vote”.

In practice, only express negative votes are counted under this rule and a blind eye is turned to abstentions. Despite the words plain meaning, their legal meaning has changed through their use in practice.

So, similarly, there’s nothing stopping the content of the words “self-defence” evolving over time.

So is such an assasination a war crime? Whether civilian leaders are legitimate military targets in a war is a debateable issue, as is the application of the law of armed conflict to a war on terror.

However, assassinating a diplomat returning to his own country is, one would think, rather against the spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

For a usually relatively intelligent show, sloppy errors teenage delegates to a model UN should be able to pick up.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Only in the UK ...

I am a big fan of BBC weather online. However, only the UK could need an icon for "sunny intervals with scattered snow."

Which was the weather Thursday before last: hence the photo below of my outside door.

Snow in March. Damned British weather.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Great powers and legal subjects in the making of counter-proliferation law

It seems the nuclear club just got bigger. Certainly, India’s had nuclear weapons for years and has stood deliberately outside the NPT system. However, the Bush administration’s effort to accommodate its civilian power program in exchange for it being quarantined from military research and subject to IAEA safeguards is an interesting step towards containment and tacit acknowledgement of nuclear power status.

In part, the US is probably interested in seeing India (the world’s largest democracy, after all) become a counter-balance to China. What I’m interested in, though, is what the non-proliferation tells us about the structure of power in current international legal relations and law-making.

Gerry Simpson’s argument in his excellent Great Powers and Outlaw States is that the great powers adopt an approach to international law based on whether they think their power is waning or still growing. Those that are aware their era may be passing will favour a rules based system that attempts to cement their current position in place. This was the United Kingdom’s aim in negotiations over the UN Charter. The Security Council was a deal between a declining great power (the UK) and two still-rising great powers (Russia and the US). France and China were added essentially as afterthoughts: China in particular as a regional balance against Japan.

Thus, it is scarcely surprising in an era when the US feels its power to be in the ascendant it’s academics, politicians and policy-makers often seem impatient with current international law and want to push the envelope (far more so than their diplomats and generals). Meanwhile European powers cling to UN procedure as the touchstone of legitimacy. It was ever thus.

Simpson also puts the point that great powers politics usually results in several tiers of international rules. Roughly speaking, the great powers claim certain privileges or exemptions not available to others, the mass of law-abiding or “civilized” States live within the constraints and protections of the law, while demonized “outlaw” States are denied the protection of the law but are also subjected to an intensely discriminatory regulatory law (sanctions).

How does this play out in counter-proliferation? While there has been much talk of the US “hegemony” or a “unipolar” world, I do not think the US is claiming any special privileges as a sole super-power. Despite the rhetoric of the “war on terror” the US has not been prepared to claim unique rights only it may exercise, or declared a unilateral policy of great-power intervention (à la the Brezhnev Doctrine). Iraq looks increasingly exceptional: the final chapter of a previous era of intervention, not the herald of a new dawn of global regime change. It is an exception that proves no particular rule.

The US is acting, in fact, far more like a great power in a phase of consolidation rather than expansion. Like a consolidating great power it is interested in creating new, and discriminatory, legal structures that favour its position.

It does not openly disclaim that it is a subject of the law, but it is far more interested in being the first-among-equals within the club of law-makers. Legislators can make laws that apply equally to all, but will never realistically apply to them. “The law in its majesty forbids both rich man and poor man from sleeping under a bridge.”

It wants a system that preserves WMD among a club of “responsible” weapon holders and that prohibits others from obtaining them. Logically, this now dictates either sanctioning India, or brining it further into the fold. India, for its part, may finally have stepped closer to the seat at the law-making table it’s been after.

Next: the law-making club and the unequal international law of non-proliferation.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Only the finest in non-lethal weapons ...

Rabbits appear to have been troubling the gardeners where I live. The answer? These cute little (and, after one week, seemingly entirely ineffective) non-lethal rabbit traps.

The idea is that the rabbit is lured in by the tasty carrot, stands on the elevated ramp to get at it, the ramp then falls, in turn pulling the the pin holing the door open - and voila, caged bunny.

Shame the rabbits don't seem to like 'em and that the wind seems able to blow the doors shut ... I re-set one of them myself for this photo.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rap, rap, rapping the gavel of justice

Perhaps one of the finer moments of US Judicial humour in a footnote arrived in the my e-mail inbox in the form of the appeals judgment in US v Murphy (4 May 2005, 7th Circuit).

The case was about witness intimidation in – of course – a crack-smoking trailer park:
“On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a “snitch bitch hoe”(1) and hit her in the head with the back of his hand. He said he saw her name in discovery materials from his son’s criminal case and that she was responsible for putting him in jail. …”

The footnote at (1) reads:
The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.”


Friday, February 17, 2006

Iran’s nuclear programme: what’s going on?

Okay, so we’ve all heard the phrases: Iran has resumed uranium enrichment, it’s torn UN seals off research installations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might refer it to the Security Council.

Indeed, Iran’s chief hope of stalling UN action appeared to be negotiating with the E3 (France, the UK, Germany) and Russia. Now France’s foreign minister has said that as no civilian program could explain the Iranian nuclear program the situation is simple: it’s a clandestine military program.

What the hell is going on? Here’s my effort at an idiot’s guide. (My apologies that this has become a very long post).

(1) Isn’t Iran obliged not to pursue nuclear research under the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

No. Iran is a party to the NPT, but it only prohibits the non-nuclear weapons States (everyone but the US, UK, France, Russia and China) from having nuclear weapons. There is nothing wrong with a civilian nuclear power program, indeed Article 4 of the NPT preserves the right “to develop research, production and use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.”

The other problem with the NPT is there’s really not anything much wrong with enriching uranium to weapons grade. There’s also no prohibition on a parallel weapon program that could be used to deliver a conventional explosive or nuclear bomb by missile. A State could do both legally, pull out of the NPT on three months notice, and then put them together.

It’s this lack of a safety margin that explains why everyone is so concerned about IAEA inspections, it’s the only guarantee of good faith that States are not moving to a weapons program (see below). It’s also a requirement under Article 3 of the NPT that all States sign up to an inspection program.

(2) What does it mean to “resume uranium enrichment”?

There’s a great diagram over at Le Monde. It’s pretty comprehensible even if you don’t read French.

The basics are these. Like most things dug out of the ground, unrefined uranium is not very useful. Refinement turns it into “yellowcake” powder, which is 75% uranium. Heated in the right conditions the yellowcake becomes uranium hexaflouride gas (or UF6). The UF6 can be refined into the seriously useful type of uranium (U-235) by spinning it in a centrifuge. As the Guardian puts it:
“Uranium is enriched by spinning it at supersonic speeds in centrifuges. Hundreds of the machines are needed to obtain enough material for a bomb.

Diplomats said in September that Iran could have serious technical difficulties in enriching uranium on an industrial scale, which requires getting the centrifuges to work in cascades.”
If you’ve got enough cascades of centrifuges to refine it, or “enrich it”, improving the concentration of U-235 to 3-5% you can run a power plant; refine it to a concentration of 90% you have weapons-grade material. The other possible problem is that a civilian nuclear power program may itself produce material useful in weapons.

(Scientists, correct me if I’m wrong, please.)

So, Iran is “resuming” this process because in 2002-3 it had its first go at it. When they were caught out by US spy satellites and agreed to let the IAEA in, the IAEA found uranium enriched to a level well beyond what was needed for a civilian program. In 2004 the IAEA accused Iran of being less than fully frank with it, and Iran agreed to a voluntary suspension of enrichment activity. This is where the talk of “UN seals” comes in: Iran let the IAEA secure the facilities.

There’s a useful timeline, again at Le Monde.

(3) What’s the fuss about IAEA inspections?

Put simply, the NPT requires parties to enter inspection arrangements with the IAEA but does not provide a lot of detail. In practice the IAEA has negotiated “safeguards” agreements, also called Additional Protocols, allowing strengthened inspection measures (such as visiting on short notice) with most parties to the NPT (there’s a table of them here).

The point of such inspections is to give the world confidence that nuclear material is not being diverted for military purposes. However, States commonly have concerns that IAEA inspections might allow commercially sensitive information to leak to other countries (essentially, a fear some inspectors might engage in industrial espionage). The tension between inspectors, hopefully acting for the global good, and State’s legitimate fears about sensitive information is reflected in Article 7 of the IAEA’s own Model Protocol on inspections, providing that the State and the IAEA:

“shall make arrangements for managed access under this Protocol in order to prevent the dissemination of proliferation sensitive information, to meet safety or physical protection requirements, or to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information. Such arrangements shall not preclude the Agency from conducting activities necessary to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at the location in question …”

Inspections in Iran have been carried out in accordance with such a Protocol.

The catch is Iran isn’t strictly bound by an Additional Protocol. One was negotiated between Iran and the IAEA in late 2003. It was signed, but it never entered into force.

It is quite common in international law for agreements not to be binding upon signature but only upon later “ratification”. This usually means taking the treaty back home and complying with any national law requirements before depositing an instrument of ratification, at which point the treaty may enter into force for the ratifying State.

Iran, however, has never taken the step of bringing it into force but rather has pledged to apply its Additional Protocol pending entry into force. So they can thus call their co-operation with the IAEA voluntary, and claim a right to stop it at any moment. It’s really a very clever legal strategy.

(4) So where to now?

The UN Security Council does not have to wait for the IAEA, legally speaking, before it declares that a State is pursuing a nuclear program that constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Once it has found such a threat, it can impose sanctions that UN members are obliged to implement.

The SC’s powers to protect international peace and security are sweeping. Even if Iran is doing nothing illegal under the NPT per se, or even if it withdraws from the NPT and is no longer legally bound by it – that’s irrelevant if the SC considers that it poses a threat to peace and security. So Iran's argument that it's not presently in legal or technical breach of NPT commitments may be - in a very narrow sense - correct; but that's hardly the point, especially given its history of trying to conceal part of its program from the IAEA.

What the IAEA process provides is a mechanism for diplomacy and a forum for Iran to build confidence that its nuclear program is intended only for civilian purposes. So why is it playing at diplomatic brinkmanship?

My guess is not that they necessarily want nuclear weapons, they want to pose a credible threat that they have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. When you’re sitting in a highly unstable region, and the US is busy redecorating in your next-door neighbours and has branded you part of an “axis of evil” – it’s not perhaps entirely unreasonable to want to possess your own nuclear deterrent.

It’s just a really high-risk strategy if what you’re after is security.

Update on Iran (20/02/06)

According to Reuters Iran now appears to have poured cold water on Russia's offer to enrich Iranian uranium within Russian territory (thus preventing Tehran from diverting it for weapons, but allowing a peaceful power program). While they may accept it, they will not abandon research into further enrichment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

(Image from BBC online)

Crossing the road safely with Dr Who: 70s style!

This is very odd, rather than "stop, look and listen!" we have Jon Pertwee explaining to ice-cream hungry youngsters how to "SPLINK!" - the most bizarre safety (non-)mnemonic imaginable.

Still, his suit and final facial expression are quite amusing.

Props to the BBC for digging out such archival treasures and putting them online. Shame about the picture quality, though.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Clearly not fearsome enough: students and food

A student back from Singapore gave me these tasty apricot filled baked treats after the Christmas break.

In addition, I've been invited to the annual law students' dinner at one of the colleges for which I supervise students (provide tutorials) in international law.

I'm guessing a college student law society is only going to ask you to attend one of these shin-digs if you're either: (a) important; or (b) regarded as alright/potentially fun to have around.

So, as I clearly wield no power at all, I'm guessing I'm doing OK on the whole fair-minded and dillgently prepared supervisor thing. Yay me.

I've also managed to lose my fear that my supervisees will find this blog (hi guys!).

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

"Picked by" ... wow, He's working at the video store?

So, I subscribe to a DVD rent-by-mail service. It's a fantastic idea, I pay them 8 pounds a month and get four DVDs in the mail. No late fees, two at any one time, I post one back they post one out. I get to update my rental selections on line.

It's genius.

But there's still a human element. Someone, and I do mean Someone, has to pack the mail bag.

(Look closely at the "Your item was picked by line" above the address, if you haven't already.)

It does indeed look as though my increased attendance at evensong choral services in Cambridge has not gone un-noticed upstairs.

Yes, I know I should be blogging about Iran's nuclear program; or cartoons, free speech and religious respect - but this is too darn funny.

PS The DVD that arrived in this packet? "Monty Python: Quest for the Holy Grail." 100% fact.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Big, ugly and very valuable: patagonian toothfish

People might remember the embarrassment for the Australian government, when the crew of the Viarsa 1 went free in November 2005 after being acquitted by a jury in Perth of illegal fishing in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone off the Heard and MacDonald Islands north of Antarctica. It was the crew’s second trial, the first being abandoned when the jury failed to return a verdict. In the meantime they’d spent two years living in seaman’s hostel in Perth.

So, what’s all the fuss about fishing in Australian Antarctic waters?

Well, for a start the toothfish are supposed to be managed under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources 1980 (CCAMLR). While not being endangered, they do take 10 years to mature and over-fishing risks taking juveniles before they can breed.

Secondly, it’s big business. These are big fish (they can grow to over 2 metres) and the meat is worth a lot in US ( where it is sold as “Chilean sea bass”) and Japanese markets. The economics of their over-exploitation is remarkable.

Treves has succinctly describes the “common pattern” of IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing for Patagonian toothfish in the CCAMLR area:
Fishing vessels flying various flags and most often involving Spanish interests … engage in long-term fishing cruises in the waters of the Southern Ocean. The wealth of the fish – especially Patagonian toothfish – in the vast expanses of the Southern Ocean, and the relatively remote chance of being caught while fishing in the economic zones of France (Kerguelen and Crozet Islands) and Australia (Heard and McDonald Islands), are the main attraction for such expeditions. The financial stakes are considerable, given that a full cargo of Patagonian toothfish can equal or exceed the value of the fishing vessel involved.

In two cases before ITLOS (the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) this proposition has been starkly demonstrated. When the Monte Confuco was seized by France the evidence before the Tribunal was that the vessel was worth $US 345,000 while its cargo of toothfish was worth approximately $US 1.5 million. When the Volga was seized by Australia the vessel was valued at $AU 1.8 million, and its cargo of toothfish was sold at tender for $AU 1.9 million. (See Tullio Treves, “Flags of Convenience before the Law of the Sea Tribunal”, 6 San Diego Int’l L.J. 181 (2004-2005), 181-2).

However, law enforcement in this part of the world is hard. It’s extremely remote and inhospitable environment with weather conditions often making boarding vessels dangerous, if not impossible. It’s no coincidence that most Australian boardings of vessels found fishing illegally have usually required military assistance and boarding by fast rope from Navy helicopters.

Some of these cases often involved lenthy hot pursuits in difficult and dangerous conditions: the South Tomi was pursued for 15 days across 3,300 nautical miles, while the Viarsa pursuit lasted 21 days and covered 3,900 nautical miles. Third States provided military assistance the eventual boarding of both the South Tomi (South Africa) and Viarsa (South Africa and the United Kingdom).

Thus, Australian experience suggests IUU fishing vessels are willing to go to significant and dangerous lengths to evade capture and are often under instruction not to surrender to law-enforcement vessels unless absolutely necessary. The risk-taking appears to be related to the potential economic gain.

It has been said that the profits to be made, given that only one or two voyages may be needed for a significant return on the cost of the vessel, make IUU fishing for toothfish potentially more profitable than drug or people smuggling (see Baird, “Coastal State Fisheries Management”, (2004) 9 Deakin Law Review 91).

This has driven Australia to described the practice before the CCAMLR annual meetings as “a highly organised form of transnational crime”.

Indeed, when Australia stopped the Lena and the Volga on the same day, it appeared that the two vessels were in communication and Australia led evidence before ITLOS that suggested these two Russian-flagged vessels were part of a larger IUU fishing fleet owned by one family through a company in Jakarta (see the Volga Case transcript, ITLOS/PV.02/02, p. 28 at ITLOS).

It just goes to show if there's enough money in it, there's nothing disorganised about crime.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Palestinian election

For what little my opinion is worth: I think the Hamas election victory could well become a step forward for peace in the Israel/Palestine dispute. I think Israel and the west will have no choice but to negotiate with the “Change and Reform” parliamentary party, and I think a new breed of Hamas politicians will have to distance themselves from terrorism and the core aim of the destruction of the Israeli state.

I am not about rewarding suicide bombers here, merely making a pragmatic prediction. Once Hamas has to govern, once it is responsible for tax collection, spending aid money and the day-to-day governmental grind of providing roads, water and schools – it is going to have a much harder job selling itself to its now (greatly enlarged) core constituency. Government involves compromise and the experience tends to soften radicals.

Hamas was not elected, it would seem, by a newly radicalised Palestine. It won as most oppositions do: because people were sick of the incumbents. These are not electors who will be impressed by renewing the insurgency against Israel: they want a functioning economy, basic services, and freedom of movement through Israeli managed checkpoints. Those will be the yardsticks of Hamas’ success or failure now: not its ability to cause bloodshed.

It will be in the new parliamentary Hamas members’ interests to clamp down on militarism or distance themselves from it. If they want international credibility and the aid money that goes with it, they’ll have to.

Further, Israel is still the occupying power throughout much Palestinian territory and is thus responsible for basic services. Getting the occupying power to fulfil its obligations means negotiating with Israel, which some Hamas leaders already do.

On the other side, if Israel wants security in its own borders, it has to solve the Palestinian question. And if it won’t negotiate with Hamas who will it negotiate with? Permanently closing the border and leaving the Palestinian economy to (further) stagnate and the Palestinians to starve isn’t a realistic option. Which means refusing to talk to terrorists isn’t an option: though it may be a tactic to try and wring concessions from Hamas about a strengthened cease-fire and modifying its charter goals.

A Hamas parliamentary wing, let alone a government, gives the international community significant leverage to hold the militants to account. The difficulty will, of course, be in how all players manage any splinters of Hamas who inevitably decide in coming months and years that the parliamentary wing are ‘sell-outs’ and go it alone.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cime of the day

An exercise of universal jurisdiction is where a State makes it a crime before their courts for anyone, anywhere to commit a certain act. With this in mind I found the following passage drily amusing:

"... in United Kingdom law universal jurisdiction is asserted in sections 47 and 51 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, in respect of the offence of knowingly causing a nuclear explosion without authorisation. The Rule of Law is a wonderous thing."

(See Vaughan Lowe's chapter on "Jurisdiction" in Evans (ed), International Law).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Clearly an act of stupidity"

One of the more bizarre local crimes to have been committed recently in Cambridge involves posting a hamster.

A couple of undergraduates living not that far from me decided to post a hamster in a bizarre act of revenge to a man who they claimed had threatened one of them. Apparently, after there had been complaints about a man loitering about their college (on one report kerb-crawling and abusing students) the pair had tailed a suspect home and become embroiled in an argument.

The reason given for such an idiosyncratic revenge:

"to cause confusion - I suppose to make him look after it".

That and they claim to have been "plastered" at the time.

The hamster, subsequently called "First Class", was saved from death by mail-sorting machine through the attentive intervention of a postman. The pair were found guilty of, and fined heavily for abandoning an animal in circumstances likely to cause suffering.

In a statement reproduced in student papers but not the mainstream media, the pair apologized but also made a comment about the the diligence of the RSPCA in securing their prosecution compared to the local police's activity to find the loitering man they blamed for their woes.

They also made a rather ill-judged comment about "society's priorities" and the number of lives that could be saved by a donation to Oxfam equivalent to the public costs incurred in their prosecution. Well quite. But hardly the kind of half-hearted expression of contrition likely to endear them to the general public, though certainly not crass enough to justify the subsequent (and cowardly) hate mail to one of their families.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Being foreign

I'd be the first to admit that Australian universities don't often do their peachy-fresh best by international students (especially given the cash they bring in) in terms of creating a smooth application process.

Indeed, now being a foreign student myself and subject to the varying whims and idiosyncrasies of Cambridge bureaucracies, I have some sympathy for the confusion and terror that can be engendered through the process of applying to study abroad.

I can even believe that there exist in parts of the world "education agents" to recommend universities to those wishing to study in Australia and who will, for a fee, guide them through the application process.

What a shame they may prove no more use in the application process than a bootful of old cheese.

From a friend working in foreign student admissions, I present the e-mail she wish she'd sent to one such agent:

"Dear Ms X,

Thank you for your utterly unnecessary letter regarding your client, Mr Y.

As I am sure you can appreciate, there are a very large number of students who choose not to complete their enrolment until the last minute. Nor is your assumption - specifically, that you are entitled to special treatment on the basis that you can operate a fax machine - unusual.

Your efforts are, however, made more unique by your timing, and I am gladdened to see that you take your responsibilities so seriously as to require urgent completed enrolments within hours of making payment. Such a keen work ethic is to be admired.

As a professional courtesy, may I take this opportunity to remind you that in the majority of efforts to increase efficiency, underlining doesn't work. This is true irrespective of how many times it is used. The same can be said of the use of an "urgent stamp". There is a well-established inverse relationship between how many times the stamp is used and how effective it is.

May I also suggest that in future, you carefully analyze where the important information is found on any given letter, and avoid marking that section with a stamp of any kind.

I would also recommend that you request from your employer that you be allowed to undertake further training in the basic functions of a fax machine. This will allow you to send each page of your faxes once, as opposed to sending the same page one hundred and fifty times.

Warm regards, etc"

Oh dear. Anyone else had their own work held hostage by the incompetence of others lately?

Friday, January 20, 2006


Sorry to have been absent a while. January ran away with me, and then became a downhill run to returning to Cambridge.

Some statistics (believe them or not!):

Total time spent in transit, door-to-door, from my parents house to my room in Cambridge: 34 hours.

Time spent hanging about at airports (Canberra, Sydney, Singapore, Heathrow), as opposed to flying: 7 hours.

Sleep gained on flight: 2 hours.

Number of movies watched: 5 ½ (Everything is Illuminated, The Corpse Bride, Must Like Dogs, The Constant Gardener, The Brothers Grimm and bits of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigilo).

Pages of international law material read on the flight: nil.

Number of sudoku (easy and medium only) attempted: 10

Number of sudoku completed: 9

Bus trip, Heathrow to Cambridge: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Time difference between Eastern Australia and the UK: 11 hours.

Average time spent in bed before waking up desperately confused: 2 hours.

Current half-time score: jet lag – 5; Doug – 2.

Fortunately I have a weekend to get myself together before I begin supervising undergrads again on Tuesday. Shame I need to read Pinochet (No 3) in that time as well …