The Marshall Islands’ Case against India’s Nuclear Weapons Program at the ICJ

[Cross-posted from the EJIL: Talk! blog]

Earlier this year, on 24 April, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed an application against India and eight other States at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), claiming that these States, known or presumed to possess nuclear weapons, have failed to fulfil their obligations under international law with respect to nuclear disarmament and the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date. In its application against India, the Marshall Islands accused it of not engaging in negotiations to cease the nuclear arms race, highlighting that India, instead, continues to expand and improve its nuclear arsenal. By an Order dated 16 June 2014 the Court noted India’s objection to its jurisdiction, as well as its refusal to participate in procedural meetings, and decided that the jurisdictional questions must be separately determined before proceeding to the merits. This post explores the basis of the Court’s jurisdiction over the Marshall Islands’ application against India. One reservation to India’s optional clause declaration excluding disputes concerning actions taken in “self-defence” suggests that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

The Marshall Islands relies on different grounds to establish the Court’s jurisdiction in its nine applications. In its applications against India, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan, it invokes these States’ declarations accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction. In its applications against the United States, China, France, Russia, Israel and North Korea – none of whom have made declarations accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction – it calls upon these States to accept the Court’s jurisdiction under the doctrine of forum prorogatum. The application against India is unique because, while India has accepted the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, unlike the UK and Pakistan, India made a reservation to its Declaration that may exclude the Court’s jurisdiction over the Marshall Islands’ Application.

The Limits of India’s Recognition of ICJ Jurisdiction

On 18 September 1974, Swaran Singh, the then Indian Minister of External Affairs, made adeclaration, on India’s behalf, which recognizes “as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement … the jurisdiction of the [ICJ] over all disputes”. This blanket acceptance is qualified by a long list of reservations that excludes several categories of disputes from the scope of India’s consent. One broad class of disputes that is excluded are “disputes relating to or connected with facts or situations of hostilities, armed conflicts, individual or collective actions taken in self-defence, resistance to aggression, … and other similar or related acts, measures or situations in which India is, has been or may in future be involved”.

At its heart, the Marshall Islands’ case against India concerns “the quantitative buildup and qualitative improvement of [India’s] nuclear forces” (Application, p.25). The question therefore is whether this subject matter is excluded by India’s reservation described above. The mere development of a nuclear weapons program and the maintenance of a nuclear arsenal would most likely not qualify as a “situation of hostilities, armed conflicts, individual or collective actions taken in self-defence, resistance to aggression”. However, the above reservation is worded rather broadly, and India’s nuclear weapons program may be seen as being “relate[d] to” or “connected with” such situations or “other similar or related acts, measures or situations”.

The Marshall Islands’ Application appears to acknowledge this point, yet fails to address the hurdle posed by the reservation, noting only that India’s Declaration is “without pertinent reservation” (Application, p. 24). For example, the Application quotes India’s statement at the 2009 plenary of the Conference on Disarmament, wherein India stated that “[n]uclear weapons are an integral part of our national security and will remain so, pending the global elimination of all nuclear weapons on a universal, non-discriminatory basis” (Application, p. 11). The Application also refers to India’s no-first-use-policy and quotes the Indian government’s stance that “nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces anywhere” (Application, p. 11). These statements and India’s official no-first-use-policy suggest that India’s nuclear weapons program is designed and implemented primarily to safeguard national security and to defend the country in situations of hostilities and armed conflicts. Any dispute relating to India’s nuclear weapons program and arsenal would, therefore, appear to be excluded from the Court’s jurisdiction by virtue of the broadly worded reservation found in India’s 1974 Declaration.

Interpretation of National Defence Reservations

While some States and scholars argue that disputes relating to national defence and security are non-justiciable by their very nature, reservations similar to the broadly worded “self-defense” reservation included in India’s Declaration are not very common. A quick survey of the 70 declarations available on the Court’s website as of 19 June 2014 reveals that 7 contain some variation of a “self-defense” reservation.

In addition to the Court’s approach towards the interpretation of optional clause declarations in general, two disputes that may shed light on the issue are the Nuclear Tests Cases brought byAustralia and New Zealand against France in 1973 concerning the legality of atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by France in the South Pacific region. In those cases, Australia and New Zealand sought to base the Court’s jurisdiction on, inter alia, France’s 1966 declaration recognizing compulsory jurisdiction. The 1966 French Declaration in effect at that time, however, contained a reservation similar to the one found in India’s 1974 Declaration that excluded “…disputes concerning activities connected with national defence”. In the end, the Court was not called upon to address this issue as it found that the case had lost its object in light of the public assurances given by high-ranking French officials that France would cease atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Nevertheless, several judges of the Court addressed the issue in their individual opinions. Judge de Castro was of the view that the French “reservation certainly seems to apply to the nuclear tests”. Judge Forster went further and spoke of the “absolute sovereignty which France, like any other State, possesses in the domain of its national defence”. Citing the example of the UK, Judge Gros noted that Australia’s and New Zealand’s claims “to impose a certain national defence policy on another State is an intervention in that State’s internal affairs in a domain where such intervention is particularly inadmissible”.

Commenting on these cases, Professor Oscar Schachter, in his 1982 general course at the Hague Academy, noted that “a term such as ‘national defence’ allows a very wide margin of appreciation and a court should be exceedingly cautious to avoid imposing its own interpretation on whether a particular act is in the national defence of the State concerned”. While the exact language of the French and Indian reservations may be different, in general, the Court has recognized that, given thesui generis nature of optional clause declarations, the “régime relating to the interpretation of declarations made under Article 36 of the Statute is not identical with that established for the interpretation of treaties by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (Fisheries Jurisdiction (Spain v. Canada), Judgment of 4 December 1998, para. 46). In particular, the Court has explained that whatever the basis of consent to its jurisdiction, “the attitude of the respondent State ‘must be capable of being regarded as an ‘unequivocal indication’ of the desire of that State to accept the Court’s jurisdiction in a ‘voluntary and indisputable’ manner” (Questions of Mutual Assistance (Djibouti v. France), Judgment of 4 June 2008, para. 62). Such a subjective interpretative approach, as reflected in the “unequivocal indication” standard, appears to favour a reading of India’s Declaration that excludes disputes relating to India’s nuclear weapons program from the scope of India’s consent to the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Further Options for India

Having formally objected to the Court’s jurisdiction, India now has two options. It can choose to participate in the ICJ proceedings in order to formally lodge its legal objections to the Court’s jurisdiction. Or, as envisaged in Article 53 of the Court’s Statute, it can choose to not appear before the Court at all, as France did in the Nuclear Tests Cases. Interestingly, the Court’s Order of 16 June fixing the time limits for pleadings on jurisdictional questions notes that India refused to participate in a meeting called by the President of the Court to discuss preliminary procedural issues. India, therefore, may be leaning towards non-appearance.If India refuses to appear, Article 53(2) of the ICJ Statute requires that the Court must satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction and that the claim is well founded in fact and law.

While not participating in the proceedings appears to provide an easy way out, India’s reasoned engagement in the proceedings by objecting to the Court’s jurisdiction would show its commitment to the international rule of law, as encouraged by Article 51 of the Indian Constitution, which calls upon the State to “foster respect for international law” and to “encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration”.  The last time India was involved in a dispute before the ICJ was in 1999 when Pakistan accused India of shooting down a naval aircraft in Pakistan’s airspace. In that case, too, India objected to the Court’s jurisdiction on the basis of the so-called “commonwealth reservation” to its optional clause declaration. However, it fully participated in the written and oral proceedings on the issue of jurisdiction, and the Court eventually agreed with India and found that it lacked jurisdiction (Judgment, para. 46).  (Incidentally, unlike 1999, this time, the Court also includes a permanent judge of Indian nationality, Judge Dalveer Bhandari having been elected to that position in 2013.)

Finally, it is important to remember that the argument that the Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the Marshall Islands’ case against India has nothing to do with the undoubted desirability of living in a world free of nuclear weapons, which are known to cause unbearable suffering and vast destruction. Instead, the Court’s lack of jurisdiction is only a sobering reminder that public international law generally and the jurisdiction of the Court, in particular are founded on the voluntary consent of States. To quote Judge Ignacio Pinto from the Nuclear Tests Cases, the Court “has no right to hand down a decision against a State which by a formal declaration excludes its jurisdiction over disputes concerning activities connected with national defence”.

BREAKING: Final Award Issued in the Kishenganga Arbitration

The Court of Arbitration (CoA) constituted under the Indus Waters Treaty delivered its Final Award in the Kishenganga Arbitration between Pakistan and India on 20 December 2013. As reported previously, the CoA issued a Partial Award in the matter on 18 February 2013. The Partial Award allowed India to proceed with the construction of its Kishenganga Hydroelectric Power Project (KHEP), subject to ensuring a minimum downstream flow of water to be determined in the Final Award. It also prohibited India from using drawdown flushing for sediment control at the KHEP and any future run-of-river plant on the Western Rivers. (For more information on the Partial Award and the background to the dispute, please see my ASIL Insight on the Partial Award available here and here.)

In its Final Award, the CoA determined the minimum downstream flow of water to be ensured by India. The Parties’ submissions for the second phase of the proceedings included data on the water flow in the Kishenganga river, effect of the minimum flow of water on power generation, agriculture uses in the Neelum valley, and the environmental impact of the KHEP. The CoA described its task in the second phase of the proceedings as follows:

Taken as a whole, the task facing the Court — now having the benefit of significantly more information and analysis from the Parties — is to determine a minimum flow that will mitigate adverse effects to Pakistan’s agricultural and hydro-electric uses throughout the operation of the KHEP, while preserving India’s right to operate the KHEP and maintaining the priority it acquired from having crystallized prior to the NJHEP. At the same time, in fixing this minimum flow, the Court must give due regard, in keeping with Paragraph 29 of Annexure G, to the customary international law requirements of avoiding or mitigating trans-boundary harm and of reconciling economic development with the protection of the environment.

(Final Award, para. 87)

Having considered the Parties’ submissions, the CoA decided that “India shall release a minimum flow of 9 cumecs into the Kishenganga/Neelum River below the KHEP at all times at which the daily average flow in the Kishenganga/Neelum River immediately upstream of the KHEP meets or exceeds 9 cumecs.”

However, it also held that “[a]t any time at which the daily average flow in the Kishenganga/Neelum River immediately upstream of the KHEP is less than 9 cumecs, India shall release 100 percent of the daily average flow immediately upstream of the KHEP into the Kishenganga/Neelum River below the KHEP.” (Final Award, p. 43)

The CoA allowed the Parties to seek a reassessment of the minimum flow through the mechanisms in the Indus Water Treaty 7 years after the diversion of water from the Kishenganga river for power generation at the KHEP. Finally, the CoA noted that the “Final Award imposes no further restrictions on the operation of the KHEP” (Final Award, p. 43)

With respect to India’s request for a clarification, as to whether the CoA’s prohibition on the use of drawdown flushing contained in the Partial Award applied only to the KHEP or to all/any future hydroelectric projects on the “Western Rivers” under the Indus Waters Treaty, the Court issued a separate Decision on 20 December 2013, finding that the prohibition on drawdown flushing is of a “general application”, and is not limited to the KHEP alone.

An Indian company goes treaty shopping…

Amidst reports of yet another investment treaty arbitration against India over the cancellation of 2G licenses by the Indian supreme court (ToIIE), the ICSID has registered an arbitration that may well represent the first time an Indian TNC has gone treaty shopping.

According to its website, on 27 September 2013, the ICSID registered an arbitration proceeding initiated by Spentex Netherlands, B.V., against the Republic of Uzbekistan (ICSID Case No. ARB/13/26). A quick Google search reveals that the Claimant in this case, Spentex Netherlands, B.V., is actually a subsidiary of Spentex Industries Ltd., a textile company registered and incorporated in New Delhi and managed by Indian nationals. The 2012-13 Annual Report of Spentex Industries Ltd. provides some insight on the relationship between the Indian parent and the Dutch and Uzbek subsidiaries. Note 42 of the Financial Statement states that:

The Company [Spentex Industries Ltd.] has an investment of Rs. 56,10,11,339 [approx. USD 89,83,362] and Rs. 93,23,779 [USD 1,49,301] in its subsidiary Spentex Netherlands B. V. (SNBV) and its step down subsidiary Spentex Tashkent Toytepa LLC (STTL) respectively. Further it has Rs. 7,00,12,404 as export receivable from STTL and advances of Rs. 9,50,70,902 in SNBV as on March 31, 2013.

The ICSID website does not yet give any further details about the arbitration, except that its subject matter relates to the “Textile Industry.” Spentex India’s statements provide some insight on the details of the dispute. Spentex India describes its version of the developments in Uzbekistan in a press release (apparently) dated 31 May 2012:

An Indian investor SIl (Spentex) through its project company STTL invested and commenced its business in Uzbekistan in right earnest and made investment vide Investment Agreement dated 26th September 2006 entered between the Government of Uzbekistan and Spentex (investor). However, in the midst of term of the Investment Agreement certain changes in legal provisions, economic and business conditions and policies were adversely changed by the authorities in Uzbekistan. These changes being contrary to the provisions of Investment Agreement jeopardized the legal stability of its project company and its business became completely unviable. Spentex made many representations to Uzbek authorities and its financers for rectifying the situation but the same went unheard and ultimately project company was forced to shut down all its factories in Uzbekistan and bankruptcy was thrust upon it. Harassment by tax authorities and prosecutors was another reason which never allowed STTL to function normally as arbitrary penalties were imposed and pressure from the prosecutor was a common feature

The arbitration proceeding also finds a mention in Spentex India’s 2012-13 Annual Report:

During the period of investment Government of Uzbekistan changed certain laws and policies by breaching the investment agreement and rendered operation of STTL unviable. Since treaties entered between the Governments of India and Uzbekistan and the Investment agreement entered between Govt. of Uzbekistan and STTL were breached, company has issued notice claiming in excess of USD 100 Mn. towards protection of investment and payment of dues & compensation for the losses suffered by the company.

Interestingly, although the above quote from the Annual Report refers to the the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between India and Uzbekistan being breached, the claimant in the arbitration proceeding is the Dutch subsidiary of Spentex India, suggesting that the claimant has sought protection under the Netherlands-Uzbekistan BIT. This is not unusual, as transnational corporations investing in foreign countries often structure their investments through a subsidiary in The Netherlands in order to avail the benefits of the vast network of Dutch BITs. The IISD, in a critical piece, notes that Dutch BITs “invite[] ‘treaty shopping,’ – i.e. routing investments through third countries to acquire the protection of investment treaties that investors would not, otherwise, have in their home state jurisdiction.” Even though the merits of the practice continue to be debated, there is no general international legal rule prohibiting investors from structuring their investments in a manner that allows them to avail of the greater protection available under certain treaties.

This development is interesting because it, once again, shows the blurring of the traditional capital-importing/capital-exporting dichotomy in discussions on investment treaties and investment arbitration. While investment treaties and investment arbitration may initially have emerged in a world where capital exporting countries primarily sought to protect their investors operating in capital importing countries, the scenario today does not allow for such a clear distinction to be easily drawn as traditional capital exporting countries gradually find themselves fending off claims by foreign investors. This, for example, is reflected in the evolution of the United States BIT program, which was focused mainly at investment protection abroad in its early days. In recent times, however, as the flow of investments into the United States has increased, its BITs have evolved to take into account not just the need for protecting investments abroad, but also the impact of such treaties and claims by foreign investors on the domestic regulatory space available to the government.

Faced with several claims by foreign investors under different BITs, there has been widespread criticism of the Indian BIT program as being too “pro-investor.” The Indian government has gone back to the drawing board and is currently reviewing its BITs. Cornered by the many treaty claims it faces, the government may well see BITs and investment arbitration as liabilities that expose it to unnecessary international litigation. However, as the Spentex case well illustrates, Indian investors are also increasingly investing abroad. Given the reciprocal basis of BITs generally, if India dilutes the standards of substantive and procedural protection in its BITs in immediate response to the claims filed against it, this would also weaken the protection available to Indian investors abroad. Therefore, as India undertakes to review and rationalize its BIT program, it must strike a careful balance between its domestic regulatory interests, on the one hand, and the interests of the Indian investor abroad, on the other. In its attempt to shield itself from claims by foreign investors, India should not deprive its own investors the benefits and protection promised by BITs.

Hat-tip to Aditya Singh for the alert about the Spentex arbitration.

An Update on Investment Treaty Arbitrations Against India

Over the past year or so India has been involved in a number of disputes with foreign investors which are at various stages of settlement. Discussions to reach a settlement are apparently underway in the dispute initiated by Vodafone against the retrospective capital gains tax sought to be imposed by the government, although the FT notes that a settlement is “highly unlikely until after India’s forthcoming national election in 2014, if at all.”

Negotiations have failed to yield result in at least two other disputes, leading to the initiation of arbitration under some investment treaties. An arbitral tribunal has been set up in a dispute initiated by “Devas Multimedia and its U.S. associates (who invested in the deal through foreign direct investment routed via Mauritius) against the Government of India following the cancellation of the deal for the launch of two satellites and the allocation of S-band spectrum to Devas.” The arbitration has been commenced under the India-Mauritius BIT and will be held under the UNCITRAL Rules with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague acting as the registry. The tribunal comprises of Canadian lawyer and politician Marc Lalonde QC (presiding arbitrator), Chilean lawyer and currently a Judge ad hoc at the ICJ Francisco Orrego Vicuña, and the former Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court Justice Anil Dev Singh. The investor-claimants are being represented by lawyers from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, LLP. India is instructing lawyers from the Indian law firm Khaitan & Co. and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt and Mosle, LL.P.

Reports also suggest that an arbitral tribunal has been constituted in a dispute initiated by ByCell, a telecommunications firm incorporated in Switzerland and owned by a Cypriot company and Russian nationals, under India’s BITs with Cyprus and Russia. The Lex Arbitri blog offers some information on the events leading to the dispute. According to the Economic Times, India has appointed Professor Brigitte Stern as its party appointed arbitrator. Details about the other arbitrators are not yet public. Curtis will also represent India in this proceeding.

On the appointment of Prof. Stern, the Indian government is apparently of the view that “[a] strong arbitrator will ensure that government’s case is represented effectively”. While this view stresses the importance of party appointed arbitrators, I think the Economic Times goes a bit far in claiming that India has “rope[d]” in “Brigitte Stern to take on Swiss telco ByCell”.  The institution of party appointed arbitrators is a common feature of international adjudication. Parties regularly choose their arbitrators in international proceedings and even the ICJ allows States to appoint ad hoc Judges for disputes in which a State party does not have a Judge of its nationality on the Court. In a diverse international legal order, party appointment can serve a useful purpose as it allows the parties to choose a person who, in their opinion, can best understand their concerns, position and culture, and can effectively explain these to his or her fellow adjudicators. India’s reason to appoint Prof. Stern appears to be reasonable in so far as it is based on India’s belief that Prof. Stern is best placed to understand the concerns of developing host-States as respondents in investment arbitration. But, now that Prof. Stern has been appointed, she also has certain obligations of independence and impartiality as a judicial member of the tribunal. To say that she has been appointed by India to “take on” ByCell presents an inaccurate picture of the role and function of an arbitrator in a proceeding of this nature. India’s lawyers will be “taking on” ByCell, not the arbitrator appointed by India.

On a related note, the issue of India’s BITs recently came up for discussion in the Indian parliament. A Member of Parliament inquired how many BITs India had concluded. In response, the Minister of State for Commerce stated that India has concluded BITs with 82 States, of which 72 BITs have come into force. He also stated that India has paid Aus $ 98,12,077 to White Industries following the award against India. Interestingly, the Minister noted that, in light of its loss in the White Industries arbitration, India is now reviewing the text of its model BIT.

Hat tip to Aditya Singh for sharing the Economic Times article on the ByCell arbitration.

India seeks clarification in Kishenganga

According to this report, India has sought a “clarification or interpretation”of the Partial Award of February 18 in the Indus Waters Kishenganga Arbitration (Pakistan v. India). India reportedly has sought clarification over the prospective, binding nature of the Court of Arbitration’s ruling in the “Second Dispute” relating to the use of a technique of sediment management called “drawdown flushing”. To recall, in the Partial Award, the Court of Arbitration had held that India was prohibited from using drawdown flushing at the Kishenganga project or any future run-of-river plant on the Western Rivers, which are allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty. India presumably wants a clarification of the second part of the ruling, i.e., whether India is prohibited from using drawdown flushing at any future run-of-river plant on the Western Rivers. This raises very interesting issues relating to the tribunal’s jurisdiction and judicial remedies under international law generally. I hope to discuss some of these issues in future posts, but for now if you’re interested in learning more about the Partial Award, you can read my recently published ASIL Insight on the topic.

India Wins the 2013 Jessup World Championship!

This is news just coming in…. India, represented by the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, has won the world championship round of the 2013 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. In the final round held today in Washington, D.C., NLS argued against Singapore Management University before a bench of distinguished judges from the International Court of Justice. This is only the second time India has won the Jessup Moot. NLS had earlier won the Moot in 1999, as well.

Members of this year’s championship winning team are: Mr. Raag Yadava, Ms. Geetha Hariharan, Ms. Shreya Jain and Ms. Akshaya Ramadurai. Congratulations to them! Congratulations are also in order for Raag for winning the Best Speaker award in the final round!

Having served as the team adviser, I have witnessed their hard-work and zeal over the past seven months and can only confirm that the victory is very well deserved and is a fitting reward for all their dedication and commitment. Congratulations, Raag, Geetha, Shreya and Akshaya! Hopefully, your personal achievement will also serve as a fillip for the professional project of international law in Indian law schools. For now, celebrate (and sleep) well!

It’s official: Italian Marines won’t return; Italy initiates international dispute against India

According to a press-release issued by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs today, the Italian marines facing trial in India for the shooting and killing of Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala will not be returning to India. “Returning?”, you might rightly wonder, considering that the marines are under trial in India and have spent the past year or so imprisoned there. Turns out that the marines were allowed to go to Italy by the Indian Supreme Court to vote in the Italian parliamentary elections. (Now we know what happened in Italy!) Apparently, according to an Indian lawyer representing the marines, “[t]he judges were sympathetic to the marines’ request to exercise their democratic right of casting their votes”.

As a preliminary matter, and correct me if I am missing something here, I have many dear Italian friends residing outside Italy, and all of them voted in the national elections by postal ballot. I wonder what made the Indian Supreme Court think that the marines needed to be physically present in Italy to exercise their franchise, when even the Italian government’s own website details the procedure of voting by post for Italians resident overseas. And, if the Court didn’t notice, why didn’t the counsels for the Indian government not point this out? Seems to me the curious case of a gun and a foot.

I should also note that this is not the first time the marines were given home leave to visit Italy. Last December, the High Court of Kerala had allowed the marines to go home to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with their families in Italy. Then, as well as now it seems, the Italian government, through its embassy in Delhi, submitted an undertaking in the Court guaranteeing that they would return to India and face trial. At the end of the first visit, the Italian government lived by its promise, and return they did in January. This time, however, things aren’t looking so nice. To refer to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press-release: “Italy informed the Indian government that, given the formal establishment of an international dispute between the two States, the riflemen Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Gironel will not return to India at the end of the permission granted to them” (Google translation).

Formal dispute? Yes. We know that following the arrest of the Indian marines in the Indian port of Kochi, Italy has persistently maintained that India lacks jurisdiction to try the marines. Even if the  Indian courts had jurisdiction, Italy argues that the marines would be protected by immunity by virtue of their position in the armed force. In India, these issues were thought to have been settled by a judgment of the Supreme Court, holding that India has jurisdiction to try the marines under its domestic criminal laws, and that any plea relating to immunity could only be raised and addressed during the actual trial process, and not a supreme court proceeding. Italy obviously disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and believes that it is contrary to India’s obligations under international law. Referring to the press-release again:

Italy has always held that the conduct of the Government of India violated the international law obligations imposed on India by virtue of customary law and treaty law, in particular the principle of immunity from the jurisdiction of the foreign state bodies and the rules of the Convention United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982.

In the aftermath of the judgment of 18 January 2013 of the Supreme Court of India, Italy has formally proposed to the Government of New Delhi, the start of a bilateral dialogue in the search for a diplomatic solution to the case, as suggested by the Court, where drew the hypothesis of cooperation between States in the fight against piracy, as envisaged by the above UNCLOS.
In light of the lack of response of India to the Italian request to enable such cooperation, the Italian Government considers that there is a dispute with India concerning the rules as contained in the Convention and general principles of international law applicable to the case.

Against this backdrop, the Italian ambassador in Delhi delivered today a note verbale to the Indian government notifying it of a formal dispute and expressing Italy’s

willingness to reach an agreement on a resolution of the dispute through international arbitration or judicial settlement, asking India to activate the consultations provided for in UNCLOS.

So why is it that the marines returned after their Christmas holiday in January, but will not be coming back this time? The answer seems to be in the Supreme Court of India’s judgment delivered on 18 January, after their return. The Court upheld India’s jurisdiction to try the marines. Up until then, Italy was obviously hopeful that the Supreme Court would side with its position. But with this judgment, it became clear that the prosecution in India would go ahead. And so, when the time came for the marines to board their return flight, following the great satisfaction that accompanies any voting exercise, they simply declined!

With this background, I hope to return soon with my thoughts on what lies ahead. For now, I hope that the Indian Supreme Court and the Government are happy with the results of the Italian elections (quite similar to what happens in India after every election), and the role they played in it!

Can run, but can you hide? Mohamed Nasheed, India and International Law

[This is a guest post by Mr. Raag Yadava, a B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) candidate (2013) at the National Law School of India University (Bangalore). Welcome to ILCurry, Raag!]

A year on from the coup, former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed walked into the Indian Embassy in Male on Wednesday last week requesting temporary refuge in the face of an arrest warrant on charges of illegally detaining the Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Perhaps a belated reaction to the current regime’s cancellation of GMR’s $500 million investment into Male (discussed previously here), or to ensure Nasheed’s participation in the democratic elections scheduled for September, the former President’s presence in the Indian diplomatic mission comes at an important time for the Maldives.

This trend of offering ‘diplomatic asylum’ (or temporary refuge, which is more apt in this case) seems to be catching on, with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now closing in on 8 months in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Chinese police chief Wang Lijun receiving ‘vacation-style treatment’ in the US Consulate in Chengdu and Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng receiving protection in the US Embassy in Beijing. Can states, then, offer refuge to individuals in their diplomatic missions at the cost of “impeding the due process of law” of the host state? (that being the charge levelled by the Maldives’ Judicial Services Commission.). To be clear, Nasheed’s case is unlike most others – he is not fearful of long-term persecution, thus requiring resettlement or residence abroad. He has neither requested nor has India considered granting ‘asylum’.

The question here is more limited. Is India obligated to transfer Nasheed to the Maldives police? Simple answer: Yes. In 1950, the ICJ considered the legality of the residence of Peruvian politician Raúl Haya de la Torre in the Colombian embassy in Lima. In concluding that Colombia was under an obligation to return de la Torre absent a clear legal basis between the states, it stands to reason today (with five decades of supporting state practice) that while states are free to grant asylum to those on their territory, the provision of protection to a fugitive in another state’s territory (‘diplomatic asylum’) finds no basis in general international law. In fact, this tradition – rooted in the Latin America – finds legal support in the 1954 Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, a regional instrument.

Given recent instances, we could perhaps be witnessing the formation of a customary norm, but opposition by the host states (Britain, Maldives, China) makes this conclusion unappealing. Any exceptions that are to be drawn come from instances of immediate threat to life in civil war and the like; instances that could hardly appeal to this case. (here and here). Lastly, and perhaps I am reading into political statements beyond their worth, but Dr. Samad Abdulla, the Maldives foreign minister, seems to be stressing on the fact that India has not granted asylum to Nasheed. Political symbolism aside (and I don’t see much of that, given Nasheed is in safe custody beyond Maldivian control, irrespective of the label), I do not see the legal difference that would make.

The legality of India’s conduct apart, since such rigid insistence on international law is not entirely realistic, what options are open to the Maldives? Very few, really. Indian and Maldives are both parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Article 22 of which poses many problems for the Maldives: “1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.” The illegality of India’s conduct apart, the Indian diplomatic mission comes under that seemingly absolute protective umbrella. While the Convention requires diplomats (who, just like states, are not obliged to assist in criminal or civil matters absent a treaty obligation to that effect) to obverse local laws and regulations, and imposes a duty “not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State”, the self-contained regime of the Vienna Convention (see Tehran Hostages) does not permit the abrogation of that rule. As long as the premises is used for the purposes of the mission (and the Indian embassy in Male is), state practice does not support exceptions to Article 22 on account of mere violations of municipal law; the consequences of such an approach being disastrous to the conduct of business between governments. To the contrary, the Vienna Convention provides remedies –declarations of persona non grata or cessation of diplomatic relations, which I doubt are of much interest to the Maldives.

As the issuance of a second arrest warrant infuses urgency into talks, the western and India support for “inclusive” elections seems to tip the balance towards Nasheed, leaving an ad-hoc political settlement permitting Nasheed to contest the elections the most likely outcome.

BREAKING: Award in India-Pak Kishenganga Arbitration Delivered

The Kishenganga Tribunal at the PCA

The Kishenganga Tribunal at the PCA

A Tribunal constituted under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (also called the “Court of Arbitration” under the Treaty) today rendered its (partial) Award in a dispute between India and Pakistan over the construction of the Kishenganga hydro-electric power project by the former (previously covered here, here, and here). According to The Hindu, the Tribunal in its Award found that:

India can go ahead with the diversion of the waters of Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum, for hydro-electric power generation.

However, the court restrained India from adopting the drawdown flushing technique for clearing sedimentation in the run-of-the river project designed for generation of 330 MW power. India may have to adopt a different technique for flushing.

In the initial reports received by The Hindu it is learnt that the court also sought statistics on the environmental flows into the river downstream of the project.

To recall, Pakistan had originally requested the Tribunal to determine two issues:

1. Whether India’s proposed diversion of the river Kishenganga (Neelum) into another Tributary, i.e. the Bonar Madmati Nallah, being one central element of the Kishenganga Project, breaches India’s legal obligations owed to Pakistan under the Treaty, as interpreted and applied in accordance with international law, including India’s obligations under Article III(2) (let flow all the waters of the Western rivers and not permit any interference with those waters) and Article IV(6) (maintenance of natural channels)? [the “First Dispute”]

2. Whether under the Treaty, India may deplete or bring the reservoir level of a run-of-river Plant below Dead Storage Level (DSL) in any circumstances except in the case of an unforeseen emergency? [the “Second Dispute”]

From the above, it thus appears that the Tribunal found in favour of India on the issue of diversion (the “First Dispute”), but against it on the second issue of reservoir level (the “Second Dispute”).

As of writing this post, neither the Award nor a press-release was available on the Permanent Court of Arbitration website. As always, we hope that the Award will soon be made publicly available. ILCurry will bring you more detailed analyses as and when that happens.

UPDATE (19 Feb. 2013): The partial Award is now available on the PCA website here. A press-release is available here. According to the press-release:

In its Partial Award, which is final with respect to the matters decided therein, without appeal and binding on the Parties, the Court of Arbitration unanimously decided:

1. that the Kishenganga Hydro-Electric Project (KHEP) constitutes a Run-of-River Plant under the Treaty, and India may accordingly divert water from the Kishenganga/Neelum River for power generation by the KHEP in the manner envisaged. However, when operating the KHEP, India is under an obligation to maintain a minimum flow of water in the Kishenganga/Neelum River, at a rate to be determined by the Court in a Final Award.

2. Except in the case of an unforeseen emergency, the Treaty does not permit India’s reduction below “Dead Storage Level” of the water level in the reservoirs of Run-of-River Plants located on the rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Treaty. This ruling does not apply to Plants already in operation or under construction (whose designs have been communicated by India and not objected to by Pakistan)

The Court expects to be able to render its Final Award determining the minimum flow of water India would be required to release in the Kishenganga/Neelum River by the end of 2013.

 

More on this soon!

GMR, Maldives and International Law

I’ve been following the recent turn of events involving India’s GMR Group and the Republic of Maldives closely. The events raise very interesting issues relating to diplomatic protection, dispute settlement, and the international regulation of cross-border investment. These developments warrant closer scrutiny considering the growing public resentment against bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in India, following an adverse award by the Tribunal in White Industries v. India, with many calling for India’s renegotiation of, if not withdrawal from, these treaties and the investment arbitration mechanism.

The story…

To recall briefly, in 2010, the GMR Male International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (GMIAL) — a consortium of the Indian GMR Group (77%) and the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (23%) — was awarded a concession contract by the Maldivian government to build and operate the Ibrahim Nasser International Airport in Male for a period of 25 years. The contract, valued by some at over USD 500 million, is said to represent the single largest inflow of foreign investment in Maldivian history. GMIAL claims that it won the contract through an internationally competitive bidding process conducted by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. For Maldives, the contract was approved and signed in 2010 by the government of President Mohamed Nasheed. As we all know, however, earlier this year, President Nasheed was ousted in what he alleged was a military coup, and a new government came to power. Reportedly, GMIAL’s concession contract was questioned by the new government soon after it gained power. Most recently, on 27 November 2012, the Maldivian Government issued a notice to GMIAL asking it to hand over the control and operation of the Male airport to the government by 7 December 2012, claiming that the concession contract was void. The Maldivian government has also stated at several instances that it will pay compensation to GMIAL (without giving any further details).

Meanwhile, an arbitration proceeding was commenced in July 2012. I have been unable to get more details on this, but presumably this was done pursuant to an arbitration clause in the concession contract (and not an investment treaty), with GMIAL commencing the proceedings against the Maldivian government following the problems it faced once the new government came to power in February 2012 (feel free to correct me on this, of course). To make matters more interesting, on 3 December 2012, the High Court of Singapore granted injunctive relief to GMIAL against the Maldivian government’s notice of 27 November, restraining it from “interfer[ing] with the rights of the Investor (GMR-MAHB consortium) under the concession agreement.” Following this injunction, however, the Maldivian government stuck to its position, stating that its decision was “non-reversible and non-negotiable” and that the that Singaporean “judge was incorrect in interpreting the law as, where compensation is adequate, an injunction cannot be issued and a court cannot issue such an injunction against a sovereign state.” Maldives has appealed the order before the Supreme Court of Singapore, with reports suggesting that the appeal has been allowed. As things stand right now, it seems like the Maldivian government will go ahead and take control of the Male airport from GMIAL on 7 December. At the risk of sounding too human, let me only note that there must naturally be a lot of worried foreign faces in Male right now. Reports also indicate that GMIAL had not obtained political risk insurance for its investment.

Enter the Government of India…

Once the Maldivian government issued its notice of 27 November, the Indian government took notice of GMIAL’s case. In its initial response, the Indian government noted that the Maldivian government’s action “sends a very negative signal to foreign investors and the international community” and that it would continue to be seized of the matter. Subsequently, following a call by the Indian industrial association ASSOCHAM to exercise diplomatic protection, reports indicate that the Indian government has suspended the disbursement of foreign aid for Maldives. Following the injunction granted by the High Court of Singapore, the Maldivian foreign minister also spoke to his Indian counterpart. In its latest press release, the Indian Ministry of foreign affairs has stated that Maldives should follow the rule of law and that it “expected that no arbitrary and coercive measures should be taken pending the outcome of the legal process underway. Resort to any such actions would inevitably have adverse consequences for relations between India and the Maldives.” Meanwhile, GMR has stated that it is committed to exploring all remedies available to it, including the option of going to the International Court of Justice (!).

So, what options for GMIAL now?

Right now, GMIAL is already part of a contractual arbitration proceeding against the government of Maldives. The arbitration is being controlled by the courts of Singapore — presumably the primary jurisdiction. If there is no misconduct on part of GMIAL (the IFC’s involvement certainly is very interesting, and rather redeeming), the arbitration might still lead to a NYC award enforceable somewhere.

In addition to this contractual arbitration proceeding, it has also been suggested that GMR should take the dispute to the ICJ. This obviously is not possible (since only States can seize the ICJ), but it is still important to see if India can exercise diplomatic protection and espouse GMR’s claim. Once India has domestically taken a decision to go to the ICJ, there are two ways to proceed: to submit the dispute to the Court by a special agreement, or to invoke the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. The problem with the latter is that the Maldives has not submitted a declaration accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. India has a declaration, thus symbolically accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, but the acceptance is made practically worthless by a massive list of 12 reservations, thus giving away with one hand, what it took with the other. Therefore, unless Maldives accepts the Court’s jurisdiction and India does away with its reservation,  the only way out is for India and Maldives to seize the Court through a Special Agreement. Obviously, that would require a lot of convincing and diplomatic rigmarole, but it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Until now we’ve looked at the private (contractual) dispute settlement proceeding underway and the unlikeliness of a public dispute settlement proceeding at the ICJ. I am sure that there is at least a theoretical possibility of going to the domestic courts in Maldives. I do not know  enough about the courts there to comment on their independence, which I have to presume because of my ignorance. That’s the domestic public (court) option then. Of course, we are only talking of options here for finding jurisdiction. Whether GMIAL eventually succeeds in any of these proceedings will depend upon the specific facts of the case (e.g., GMIALs conduct), the terms of the concession contract and the applicable law.

But, what about investment arbitration?

Apart from all these options, there could have also been an option for GMR/GMIAL to commence a legal dispute under an investment treaty between India and the Maldives. I say “could” because, to my knowledge, there is no bilateral investment treaty between India and the Maldives. Further, I do not know of a trade agreement (including the SAFTA) between the two that includes an investment chapter. Without an investment treaty in place, the option of a treaty based arbitration does not exist. Having said that, it is still an option worth reflecting on. If nothing else, then only to think about India’s BIT program. This is particularly relevant given India’s first (and only public) loss in the White Industries arbitration under the India-Australia BIT. Post White Industries there has been a growing opposition in India against BITs and investment arbitration (some extreme voices, and some milder caveats). But, the discussion until now has been rather reactionary, operating in the shadows of White Industry. This turn of events involving the Maldives offers another perspective to inform the discussion, i.e. the utility of investment treaties in protecting outward FDI from India.

The first obvious question is: why doesn’t India have a BIT in place with the Maldives? As I set out to find an answer to this question, I proceeded on the assumption that the Indian BIT program was designed mainly to attract inward FDI, rather than protect outward FDI. My cursory empirical research, however, suggests otherwise. For example, of the top 15 destinations for outward Indian FDI, India does not have a BIT currently in force with only three states (US, UAE and Singapore), in addition to the Channel Islands and the British Virgin Islands (but I suppose India’s BIT with UK applies to these territories). The situation is similar for other developing countries, with India having a BIT with many of the states favored by Indian investors in Africa and Asia. Whatever the original intentions then, the design of India’s BIT program is not aimed at attracting FDI alone. Maldives  just happened to be one unlucky place? Maybe. Anyway, the point here is that any good BIT program for a growing economy should not only be designed for attracting inward FDI, but should account for outward FDI from that economy. India’s BIT program, at least on paper, appears to meet this standard since India has concluded investment treaties with several top destinations for outward FDI from India.

Will the Indian investor please stand up?

Another important insight to be gained from the Maldives story relates to the role of the industry in shaping India’s BIT program. Thus far, the participants in the discussion on Indian BITs have included the occasional academic, the disgruntled domestic lawyer (paywalled), the principled international lawyer (also paywalled), and a rather passive Indian government. There are good reasons for taking into account the perspective of an actual beneficiary of the BIT program, i.e. the Indian investor. Otherwise, any eventual policy risks becoming ultimately ineffective and irrelevant. Indian investors and companies can begin by forming a forum for discussing issues relating to international protection of investments. They could carry out a periodic survey of the most popular destinations for outward FDI from India, and make responsive suggestions to the government’s BIT program with specific countries. Individual investors concerned about the investment climate in countries with no BITs could ask the Indian government, through this channel, to try and negotiate one. To my knowledge, no such forum currently exists, with only commerce chambers like ASSOCHAM and FICCI making reactionary comments in specific cases. With growing outward FDI by Indian firms, a systemic analysis of the benefits of investment treaties for protection of outward Indian FDI by all stakeholders involved would certainly be helpful.

In another world…

I should conclude by presenting the scenario had an investment treaty been in force between India and the Maldives. For the investor (GMR/GMIAL), this would have provided another forum for lodging its claim against the Maldives, and having it adjudicated in a timely manner according to international standards for investment protection. For the Indian government, an investment treaty and an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism would have avoided the process of exercising diplomatic protection. It could have merely pointed GMR in the direction of the treaty, and could have avoided engaging in “gunboat diplomacy” by issuing threats of canceling foreign aid. In other words, a BIT could have depolitcized the international dispute. I should point out that the benefits of BITs and investment arbitration for India and Indian investors do not suggest that such a treaty would have been prejudicial to Maldives. A range of defenses would have been available to the Maldives, including many based on GMR/GMIAL’s misconduct (if any). As examples, I would only cite the cases of Fraport and Malicorp, both involving airport concession contracts which were terminated by the host State. In both treaty arbitration proceedings, the claims of the investors were rejected on grounds relating to investor misconduct (the Fraport award was subsequently annulled, but for different reasons). So, in another world, at another time, everyone could have lived happily ever after (almost)!

Update (7 December 2012): As my friend Manu Sanan points out, India actually does have an investment treaty with Singapore in the form of an investment chapter in the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Thus, India does not have an investment treaty with only two out of the top 15 destinations for outward Indian FDI.