GEP Course Notes: Conservation in Africa, the Elephant

African elephants have been a major subject recently. News reports state that…

At least half the elephant population in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida reserve have been slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers.
(Reuters)

Over at Africa Unchained, Julie Owono notes that there is a major capacity problem for Cameroonian authorities. But clearly another major problem is that there is global–and in particular Chinese–demand for ivory. Last summer, Deborah Brautigam blogged about how “When China and Africa Dance, the Elephants Get Trampled”, citing an article in Vanity Fair. But today, over at the New York Times, Bettina Wassener, sees this demand traced to Cameroon’s recent elephant massacre (“China’s Hunger for Ivory…”).

But not all of the news is pessimistic. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to establish the “world’s largest wildlife conservation area”, to be known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).

GEP Course Notes: Climate Change Roundup

This week we are discussing the Montreal Protocol. And why are we discussing it? For the same reason so many others do: we want to know whether there are any lessons from that “success” that can help us resolve the problem of international cooperation on climate change.

So here are some recent posts from around the web on climate change.

  1. Scientific Uncertainty?

    • We often hear about how “industry” is out to debunk the anthropogenic theory of climate change. However, there is at least one industry that disagrees: the Insurance Industry.
      • “From our industry’s perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,” – Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America.
    • Meanwhile, Sean Hecht at Legal Planet, has some thoughts about “Climate “skepticisim”, ideology, and sincerity. His take seems to be that the climate naysayers are ideological while those that agree with science are not.
    • However, Hecht is ignoring an important feature of science: it too may be considered an ideology. There is an interesting article over at Philosophy Now on“Is Science an Ideology?”:
      • “The overall conclusion seems to be that all forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, are ‘ideological’ in the sense that there is no neutral, objective body of knowledge that is not infected by the purpose-relative concepts of a group of inquirers. This is a meaning of ‘ideology’ that still retains some vestiges of the original Marxist meaning of ‘ideology’ as a mask and cover for vested interests.”
    • Indeed, it is interesting to me that many of those that embrace “science” when it comes to climate change are very quick to question “science” when it seems unable to say that genetically modified foods are dangerous. Just something to think about.
  1. The impacts of climate change.

Course Notes – IL: Universal Jurisdiction

We are also discussing universal jurisdiction this week, albeit briefly. At Erga Omnes there is an interesting post about Yemen’s amnesty law that is intended to grant President Saleh immunity for any crimes he may be complicit in. This issue underscores the tension between the objectives of peace and stability (giving a President a way out might enable an easier transition), versus justice. A separate issue is whether or not Yemen’s parliament’s grant of amnesty can have any real effect outside of Yemen.

Course Notes – IL: ATS and Corporate Persons

As I mentioned in class on Monday, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week on two cases Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority. These cases concern the Alien Tort Statute, an almost-forgotten law that allows foreigners who violate serious international legal rules and norms to be held accountable in the US.

Kiobel involves Shell’s complicity in the torture of Nigerian nationals. Mohamad involves complaints against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO for torture of Mohamad’s father, a naturalized American who was in the West Bank at the time.

Here are some of the big themes in the case:

1. Are corporations people?

As Peter Weiss (NY Times h/t my student, Micky Capper) notes, the Supreme Court is faced with an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, in Citizens United it granted corporations certain rights as corporate persons. On the other hand, the Second District Court has said–in essence–that corporations are not individual persons when it comes to the Alien Tort Statute. How will they reconcile these two positions? Will they?

2. The human rights angle.

Over at Erga Omnes, the human rights dimension of the case is front and center. Kiobel involves claims against Royal Dutch Shell for its role in the torture of activists in the Niger Delta (or at least helping the Nigerian government in this).

3. Comparative Foreign Law and the Risk of Political Tensions

Following the excerpts in John Bellinger’s post at Lawfare, it is clear that the issue of extraterritorial application of the ATS is of great interest to the justices. Kennedy seems concerned that the ATS is giving the US jurisdiction that no other country attempts to exercise. Alito is concerned about how this might exacerbate international tensions.

I think the petitioner’s attorney, Hoffman, makes a great – if perhaps not original – point when he states:

“I think one of the most important principles in this case is that international law, from the time of the Founders to today, uses domestic tribunals, domestic courts and domestic legislation, as the primary engines to enforce international law.”

Indeed, if international law is going to matter, it does rely on mechanisms such as the ATS.

The Obama Administration is in favor of corporate liability in these cases, reports Reuters.

For more on these cases, see: