Groningen Journal of International Law

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Non-Recognition and Denial of Self-Determination in the Case of Western Sahara: Recent Developments in International Law

By Dr. Clive Symmons, Trinity College Dublin,


After the withdrawal of Spanish colonial forces in 1975, Western Sahara did not gain independence, but was occupied by Morocco following a war between Morocco, Mauretania and the pro-independence Polisario Front. This occupation is illegal under international law, violating the erga omnes right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people and being based, ultimately, on the use of force. The United Nations Security Council (hereafter ‘SC’) has called on Morocco to withdraw from the territory, though to no avail; meanwhile, the General Assembly (‘GA’) has effectively branded Morocco an illegal occupier.

Inadequate Reponses to the Occupation

While it should be noted that no state has officially recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, the reaction of many members of the international community has been far less decisive in practice, particularly in the ambit of trade. This can be observed, for example, in free trade agreements (‘FTAs’) and Fishery Partnership Agreements (‘FPAs’) between the EU and Morocco, which I believe violate international law in themselves, something the EU seems to have recognised in the recent Frente Polisario case. Continue reading

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Law and Empirical Research Methods

By Marie Elske Gispen, University of Groningen,

Empirical research methods are increasingly used in international legal studies and the importance of doing so is being more and more acknowledged. This development, however, may come with difficulties at both institutional and practical levels.

Institutional challenges to using empirical research methods in legal research

Institutional challenges include the fact that law schools traditionally educate their students in the use of legal methods, leaving future legal scholars often without the necessary toolkit to employ empirical methods (provided that they did not receive any other education in this field). Continue reading

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The Mauritius Convention’s Entry Into Force: High Hopes with Little Impact?

By Erica Duffy, University of Groningen,

There is a current trend in investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) towards ensuring more transparent and open proceedings. This development is a direct response to the backlash in recent years from civil society, who often considers investment arbitration to lack legitimacy. One such initiative to increase transparency in ISDS are the UNCITRAL Rules on Transparency which were adopted in order to provide for a straightforward mechanism for States to apply consistent standards in investor-State proceedings. The UN Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (“The Mauritius Convention on Transparency”) will soon enter into force. The Convention makes the UNCITRAL rules compulsory for BITs and trade agreements with investment chapters that have been concluded in the past, thus, having the potential to simultaneously amend thousands of international investment agreements. In the first two years of its existence very few countries seem willing to ratify or even sign the Convention.  Continue reading

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Battling Tax Evasion Through the Trade Regime – Advance Pricing Agreements as Prohibited Export Subsidies under the SCM Agreement

By Vincent Beyer, University of Groningen, 

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis the search for untapped sources of government revenue gained momentum. The long overdue efforts in the fight against Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) were largely concentrated in the OECD. At the same time the possibilities created by existing rules, particularly in the field of international trade, that may serve to tackle certain forms of BEPS went largely unnoticed. The interstate discipline imposed by the trading regime may provide limited means to support the fight against tax avoidance, especially where governments are complicit in the profit shifting by multinational corporations. Continue reading

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Addressing the Protection Gap of Environmental Refugees: A Reform of the 1951 Refugee Convention?

By Jenny Poon, University of Western Ontario,

I. Introduction

A protection gap currently exists under international refugee law in that the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), the international convention which recognises and offers protection for refugees, does not recognise those fleeing from the effects of climate change as refugees. The protection regime under the Refugee Convention is therefore not applicable to those fleeing from the impacts of climate change, resulting in those fleeing across international borders being denied access to the territory of the State where they are fleeing to. This blog post briefly examines why this protection gap must be addressed, including how international refugee law and the Refugee Convention may be reformed to protect these environmental refugees. Continue reading

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Building the New Gambia: Why We Should Vote for Women Candidates

From the Trenches: Practitioners’ Perspectives
Although our focus is on academic commentary, International Law Under Construction recognises that law does not exist in a vacuum. We have, therefore, decided to publish opinion pieces on an occasional basis. The first in this series of opinion pieces is by Madi Jobarteh, who has fought for human rights in the Gambia for over 15 years. This post, on gender equality in political representation, is particularly relevant given the Gambia’s upcoming parliamentary elections on April 6.

by Madi Jobarteh, The Association of NGOs (TANGO), Email:, Tel: +31610198089. Or on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Since the historic UN conference on women in 1995 in Beijing there is a universal recognition that ensuring a just society with improved economic well-being for all requires a gender quota in decision-making institutions and processes. As women constitute more than half of the world’s population, yet remain the poorest, with the highest percentage of illiteracy and most politically disempowered, there is a need to include an increasing number of women in centres of decision-making on laws, resource distribution, and wealth creation. It was recognized that in most parts of the world, even in advanced democracies, women face discrimination and oppression in all spheres of life and society. This inequality is being perpetuated by culture, religion, and capitalism, hence, the imbalance between men and women. Continue reading