Trade War Looms Over Article 16: The Northern Ireland Protocol Safeguard, Explained

Photo by Fred Moon

By Dr. Carlo Petrucci, Lecturer in Law, University of Essex

David Frost, the UK Brexit minister, has expressed discontent with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol. This is the trade arrangement at the heart of controversies over trade between the EU, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Frost has threatened to trigger an emergency brake known as article 16, or even to completely renege on the protocol. But triggering it would have wide-reaching consequences.

Since the beginning of Brexit negotiations, both the EU and UK recognised the need to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This was to preserve the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland was signed precisely for this purpose. Its rules ensure a smooth movement of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But it also introduces checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK or any other third country. This way, goods entering Northern Ireland comply with EU regulatory standards and can be exported to Ireland (part of the EU) and then to other EU countries.

The EU and UK were aware that the implementation of the protocol could lead to difficulties and problems. This is why they set up a system of joint committees (UK and EU) to discuss issues arising from the protocol and to provide an opportunity for compromise.

The protocol provides that both the EU and UK can unilaterally take “safeguard measures” if its implementation leads to durable and serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties or to diversion of trade. This safeguard is known today as article 16.

Article 16 does not specify what such safeguard measures are. In international trade, they can refer to temporary tariffs, quotas or other measures designed to avoid a country suffering serious harm. Some considerations are helpful to understand article 16 of the protocol.

First, while the EU or the UK can unilaterally take safeguard measures, the other party can respond with proportionate measures to remedy any imbalance between rights and obligations created by the safeguard. Effectively, this could lead to a trade war where the other party would also take measures, such as imposing quotas and tariffs.

In any case, it must be stressed that such safeguard measures do not include tearing up the protocol and replacing it, as has been suggested in the press. In this respect, the protocol makes it clear that the people of Northern Ireland, through a democratic vote, will decide whether the protocol should remain in force in the future.

Secondly, before taking such measures, the EU and UK must attempt to find a common solution. In this case, there is a one month waiting period, starting from the date on which either the EU or the UK advises the other that it intends to take such measures. The protocol also says that any measures taken shall be discussed every three months.

Finally, the protocol is silent on the meaning of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” or “diversion of trade” – the conditions under which the UK or the EU can legitimately adopt safeguard measures. The protocol does not offer any quantitative or qualitative criteria to define these difficulties.

Why the protocol is different

Safeguard measures are not unknown in international trade, for example, within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO) regime. These may be adopted when unforeseeable developments and circumstances connected with trade liberalisation result in an increase of an imported product, causing (or risking) serious injury to domestic producers.

It would be tempting to rely on GATT/WTO case law to define “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” as mentioned in article 16. After all, they both refer to “safeguard measures”. However, this would be a mistake for two reasons.

First, the problems arising from the protocol are not unforeseeable, as they were widely predicted when it was signed. Secondly, unlike GATT/WTO safeguards, article 16 measures do not refer to an injury to domestic producers resulting from an increase of imports.

The reality is that the underpinning goal of the protocol is radically different from an international trade agreement, and lies in the need to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and EU regulatory standards on goods. To be legitimate, any safeguard measure taken under article 16 must take this into account.

The article 16 safeguard measures are new and therefore there are no precedents to rely on to understand how they would work. While there may be different interpretations on the appropriate conditions to take such measures, there is little doubt that they will result in tariffs and quotas.

Invoking article 16 should be done responsibly. An unjustified triggering of article 16 from the EU or UK will bear serious economic consequences, and will be detrimental in terms of international credibility.

This article was first published on The Conversation and is reproduced on the ELR Blog under a Creative Commons Licence.

‘Cyber Due Diligence’: A Patchwork of Protective Obligations in International Law

Photo by Kevin Ku

With a long history in international law, the concept of due diligence has recently gained traction in the cyber context, as a promising avenue to hold states accountable for harmful cyber operations originating from, or transiting through, their territory, in the absence of attribution.

Nonetheless, confusion surrounds the nature, content, and scope of due diligence. It remains unclear whether it is a general principle of international law, a self-standing obligation, or a standard of conduct, and whether there is a specific rule requiring diligent behaviour in cyberspace.

This has created an ‘all-or-nothing’ discourse: either states have agreed to a rule or principle of ‘cyber due diligence’, or no obligation to behave diligently would exist in cyberspace.

In their new article in the European Journal of International Law, Dr. Antonio Coco, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, and Dr. Talita de Souza Dias, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC), propose to shift the debate from label to substance, asking whether states have duties to protect other states and individuals from cyber harms.

By revisiting traditional cases, as well as surveying recent state practice, the authors contend that – whether or not there is consensus on ‘cyber due diligence’ – a patchwork of different protective obligations already applies, by default, in cyberspace.

At their core is a flexible standard of diligent behaviour requiring states to take reasonable steps to prevent, halt and/or redress a range of online harms.

A copy of the authors’ article can be accessed here.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original work is properly cited.

Article full citation: Antonio Coco, Talita de Souza Dias, ‘Cyber Due Diligence’: A Patchwork of Protective Obligations in International Law, European Journal of International Law, Volume 32, Issue 3, August 2021, Pages 771–806,

Reparations Before The International Criminal Court: Who Are The Victims of Cultural Heritage Destructions and How Should Their Harm Be Addressed?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi (Mr. Al Mahdi) was brought to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for his involvement in the destruction of several historical and religious sites in Timbuktu (Mali) during an armed conflict in 2012. This was the first time in the history of international criminal justice that an individual was prosecuted for the destruction of cultural heritage alone.

Following his guilty plea and conviction in 2016, the case moved on to the reparations phase where the focus was that of redressing the harm caused to victims. Therein, the unprecedented nature of the Al Mahdi case led to an equally unprecedented question: who are the victims of cultural heritage destruction?

Drawing upon her personal involvement in the case as a Court-appointed expert, Dr. Marina Lostal, Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex, has published an article explaining how this question was resolved and the practical challenges it posed during the implementation phase.

The challenges encountered are labeled as ‘monumental’ because they had one thing in common: the amount of theoretical thinking and reflection that they deserved was inversely proportionate to the urgency with which they had to be addressed and the precedent they would establish. To surmount this, drawing from the author’s background, the Trust Fund for Victims turned to academia and consulted with scholars.

The article focuses on three of such challenges:

(i) whether ‘unborn children’ should be included in the pool of victims given that cultural heritage is meant to be preserved for the benefit of future generations;

(ii) what place women ought to occupy in the implementation of reparations, despite the customary practices of side-lining them; and

(iii) the decision of whether to memorialize events surrounding the crime.

On the latter point, the article introduces the concept of ‘restorative agency’, a working principle that was adopted in the context of memorialization measures to ensure that victims are given a platform to decide, not a decision.

Lastly, Dr. Lostal’s article provides a framework to demonstrate the level of complexity involved in the implementation of any Court-ordered reparations and reveals some of the work of the Trust Fund for Victims, one of the Court’s least comprehended creations.

Article full citation: Marina Lostal, Implementing Reparations in the Al Mahdi Case: A Story of Monumental Challenges in Timbuktu, Journal of International Criminal Justice, Volume 19, Issue 4, September 2021, pp. 831–853,

Whose Perception of Justice? Real and Perceived Challenges to Military Investigations in Armed Conflict

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States must investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflict, and many of them use military procedures for all or part of the investigation process.

Particular tensions can arise with regard to the perception of justice in the context of military judicial procedures, especially surrounding questions of independence and impartiality.

In her new article, Claire Simmons, Senior Research Officer at the University of Essex School of Law and Human Rights Centre lays out the international legal framework which should be used to solve these challenges.

The article argues that a State must address both the specificities of military institutions and the need for a perception of justice by the affected communities in considering the proper administration of justice in armed conflict.

Here is a 30-second video summary of Claire’s article:

The article is published in a special edition of the International Review of the Red Cross on Emerging Voices of International Humanitarian Law, Policy and Action, and can be accessed here for free.