Topic Idea 1 : Protecting Journalists and Researchers Working in Dangerous Places
Recent news from the Middle East highlights the dangers that journalists face in conflict areas (see here and here). Yet, it is not only in war-torn Syria that journalists and others vested in researching the events and conditions of
conflict, protest, and repression face harm. Reports from Turkey and Ukraine (here, here, and here) also indicate that journalists regularly encounter intimidation, detainment, and even bodily harm. Events such as these aggregate
to support the conclusion that CNNreaches that journalists are among the most at-risk groups in conflict zones.
Other investigators, including academic researchers and non-governmental organization investigators (such as those from Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International) face similar dangers, albeit with nominally more protection
from their sponsoring organizations.
International law already makes provisions for the protection of civilians, refugees, and prisoners of war in conflict. It would seem evident that a case could also be made for the special protection of individuals in conflict zones
for the purposes of academic research, journalism, or non-governmental monitoring. From a legal perspective, such protections would hinge on designating these individuals as a special class such as that designated for refugees
or prisoners of war, identifying state obligations for their protection, and having a system of law for the prosecution of crimes against these individuals.
In essence, the goal would be to create a case for the protection of journalists and other researchers in conflict zones as a set of state responsibilities:
• Can international law justify a special classification of researchers and/or journalists as a group deserving additional protections in conflict zones?
o Hypothetical: What about outside conflict zones?
• What would be (not should be!) the obligations states owe to the protection of researchers and journalists in conflict zones? What reasonable exceptions to these obligations could be made?
For this topic, you might draw inspiration from other existing treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Refugee Convention.
Topic Idea 2: Routing Corruption through International Law
In a recent post from the Brookings Institute, anti-corruption is an emergent area of growth in international law. Traditionally, corruption has been regarded as a question domestic law, but, as the Financial Times reports (here and
here), countries are beginning to wage anti-corruption battles internationally.
In one case, the British government is taking efforts to investigate the operations of its national firm, Glaxco-Smith-Klein, after allegations from the Chinese government that its agents “[payed] bribes to doctors to use its drugs.”
What is unprecedented in this case is the leadership the British government is taking to rout the corruption charges and to take some responsibility for its national abroad.
In a second case, corruption allegations spill over the U.S.-Mexico border, where a Mexican finance official plead guilty to money laundering charges in a U.S. federal court in Texas. This case differs from the previous case in
that the Mexican government is not assuming responsibility for the particular charges, but, Latin America as a whole is taking greater strides to cooperatively investigate allegations of corruption and improve domestic institutions
to limit the role of corruption in governance. The hope is that these efforts will further improve foreign investment in the region.
Nonetheless, as the Brookings report indicates, there is little international treaty law to direct these cross-national anti-corruption efforts. But, a reasonable question to ask is whether actions, such as these, are building the
foundation for anti-corruption customary law. Necessary to assess such a question is an understanding of the development of customary law and the attribution of responsibility.
In this topic, you might consider the hypothetical questions:
• Is anti-corruption emerging as customary international law?
• What evidence or patterns of behavior are necessary to establish this?
• If so, what might this mean for the international management of cases like those between Great Britain and China or within Latin America (or among any of these other cases reported by Transparency International)?
• For any case of alleged corruption, assuming than an international custom or law exists, what are the criteria for determining individual subjectivity and responsibility?
• When are allegations of corruption attributable to individuals?
• If a customary regime emerges, would there be a case for attribution to states, rather than individuals?
• How could the law evidence that the alleged corruption constitutes an internationally wrongful act?
• This is likely to be obvious in cases like that of the Mexican finance official, but is more ambiguous in a case like the Glaxco-Smith-Klein agents.
Topic Idea 3: Issues in Intellectual Property and Cybersecurity
Intellectual property rights are a ripe area for conflict and are continually challenged by a large number of actors in international law. Apple and Samsung’s multinational battle over intellectual property rights is just one example of
the intensity with which firms pursue infringement allegations and their reach into multiple, international venues (See also here and here).
• Related to this topic, you might write on the guidance provided by the different international rulings in these cases for legal interpretation of similar challenges in other countries.
Yet, this is but one manifestation of intellectual property rights infringement in international law. Indeed, other instances of intellectual property rights claims touch upon international relations and security — extending beyond
For example, in response to a recent series of events, the United States is accusing the government of Antigua and Barbuda of piracy, arguing that the government creates a permissive environment for the theft of U.S.-
copyrighted movies and music. American actions against the Caribbean country spurred retaliatory measures authorized by the World Trade Organization. The central document informing intellectual property rights claims of this
nature is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs).
Again, thinking about treaty interpretation, countermeasures, and domestic implementation, this particular case raises the following questions:
• Did the United States act unlawfully in its sanctions against Antigua and Barbuda for the country’s alleged infringement of U.S. intellectual property rights?
o Keep in mind that you should be able to articulate whether Antigua and Barbuda was, in fact, in violation of the TRIPs agreement in addition to the lawfulness of the U.S. response.
• Are Antigua and Barbuda’s countermeasures against U.S. actions appropriate, given the TRIPs agreement and the terms of the WTO arbitration settlement?
• Is it lawful for citizens in one country to use materials pirated from another?
• What obligations does the piracy-permitting country have to protect copyrighted works in other countries?
In another case, perhaps dissatisfied with its earlier results from the WTO, the United States is taking a different approach to resolving conflicts over intellectual property rights with India. In this case, India is accusing the United
States of permitting piracy of products from the Indian entertainment industry. The author of the article suggests that “eminent domain” could provide an alternative approach to legally resolving intellectual property claims, rather
than the WTO.
• How might eminent domain be used to resolve intellectual property rights claims between countries?
• What is the effect of multiple, overlapping venues on intellectual property rights dispute resolution?
o Particular to this issue is the contention that the TRIPs agreement is not well formed. This makes legal interpretations necessary to its refinement.
o Yet, multiple venues are likely to create different and possibly conflicting interpretations.
Related to intellectual property rights is the more sensitive area of cybersecurity. In some cases, rather than using information technology to allegedly harm private firms’ and individuals’ copyrights, these streams are used to
infiltrate highly sensitive government information. Recently, the United States announced its decision topress charges against five Chinese military hacker for cyber espionage.
Though cyber espionage clearly addresses questions more central to a state’s security than intellectual property claims related to copyrights, both types of violations exploit the similar technologies and are, therefore, arguably
addressed using similar legal principles.
• Through what instruments, decisions, or principles does international law guide the prosecution of “hacking”?
This case also links with some of the previously discussed topics with respect to responsibility. In the Antigua and Barbuda and Indian cases of intellectual property rights claims, the United States directs its legal and political
actions against the states. However, in the Chinese hacking case, the U.S. has decided to bring charges against individuals, rather than sanctioning the Chinese government.
• Why are individuals responsible for the allegations of cyber espionage in the Chinese hacking case when states might be held responsible in other cases that involve the exploitation of similar technologies (e.g.,
intellectual property rights) or in other cases of alleged espionage?