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Book Review: The Law of International Responsibility (OUP, 2010)

The Law of International ResponsibilityEdited by James Crawford, Alain Pellet and Simon Olleson, (Oxford University Press, 2010) ISBN13: 9780199296972, ISBN10: 0199296979, Hardback, 1376 pages.

The book review of this volume is long overdue. That said, I have had the possibility to make ample use of this book in my scholarly work over the last two years. Despite international law’s breadth and depth, it is difficult to find a topic which would not somehow benefit from insights included in this book. With its 86 chapters and an impressive count of 1376 pages, this collection of concise essays provides important insights on the many aspects of the law of international responsibility. Edited by three distinguished international lawyers who have been intimately involved in shaping international law over the last decades, namely James Crawford, Alain Pellet and Simon Olleson, helped by assistant editor Kate Parlett, this volume has filled an important gap in literature. Undoubtedly, this book is an important and invaluable addition to the prestigious collection of Oxford Commentaries on International Law.

The law of international responsibility is an area of fundamental importance for the contemporary system of international law. The collection of essays included in this volume seeks to cover the entirety of the broad field of international responsibility, with a particular focus on the work of the International Law Commission (ILC) on the responsibility of States and responsibility of international organizations (the ILC completed its work on this topic in 2011). The book provides a detailed discussion and analysis of different topics related to international responsibility, including the topics of State responsibility, on which the ILC completed its work in 2001, and the specific sub-topic of diplomatic protection, which the ILC completed in 2006. It also covers the issue of liability for harmful activities not prohibited under international law on which the ILC adopted drafts in 2001 and 2006 (see here for more details).

The book is divided in five parts. Part I, entitled ‘Introduction – Responsibility and International Law’ includes three chapters, namely ‘The definition of responsibility in international law’ (Allain Pellet), ‘The system of international responsibility’ (James Crawford), and ‘Primary and secondary rules’ (Eric David). This part lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. The remaining four parts of the book are further divided in subsections. Part II is entitled ‘International Responsibility – Development and Relationship with Other Areas of Law’. The two subsections under this part are entitled ‘Development of the law of international responsibility’ and ‘Responsibility and the legal system’. Its twelve chapters focus on the relationship of the law on responsibility with other areas of international law, including among others the law of treaties, the UN Charter, self-contained regimes and so on. Part III deals with ‘The Sources of International Responsibility’. This section includes 21 chapters. It is divided in two subsections, entitled respectively ‘The notion of an internationally wrongful act’ and ‘responsibility in the absence of an internationally wrongful act’. Part IV, entitled ‘The Content of International Responsibility’ has 24 chapters. It is divided in four subsections, namely ‘The general regime of responsibility for internationally wrongful acts’, ‘Consequences of grave breaches of obligations owed to the international community as a whole’, ‘Specific regimes of responsibility’, and ‘Regimes of responsibility in the absence of an internationally wrongful act’. Part V, entitled ‘The Implementation of International Responsibility’ includes the remaining 26 chapters. This part is divided in three subsections, namely ‘The injured party’, ‘Modalities for the implementation of international responsibility’, and ‘Countermeasures’.

Besides its overall comprehensiveness, another strength, adding to the value of the book, is the team of contributors composed of well-known experts, who provide a comprehensive commentary of different aspects of the topic of the law of international responsibility. The chapters included in this volume provide a succinct coverage of relevant legal issues, discussing both case law and doctrinal controversies. Moreover, every chapter has a section on further reading, which provides key references to additional literature. In addition to providing detailed consideration of the general secondary rules of international responsibility, the book also covers certain specific systems of responsibility and their relationship with the general rules under a number of specialised regimes, in particular under certain human rights treaties, the WTO, and investment protection treaties.

Future editions of the book would probably need to include a separate chapter on access to justice, or eventually denial of justice in international law (on the issue of access of individuals to international justice see here). Oftentimes, substantive violations of international law go unpunished because of the lack of a forum where to adjudicate claims. This lack of forum, or the lack of suitable dispute-settlement provisions under international law instruments, has caused States to try to fit serious inter-State disputes under instruments where they do not properly so fit. There have been a number of such cases before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). As expected, the result has been far from perfect!

A topic which is insufficiently addressed in the ILC Articles on State Responsibility (ASR), as well as those on the Responsibility of International Organizations (ARIO) is that of shared responsibility. It is true that Article 33 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility speaks of obligations owed to several States and articles 46 and 47 deal respectively with the issue of plurality of injured States and plurality of responsible  States. And article 47 of the Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations speaks of the plurality of injured States or international organizations. But these four provisions leave many issues open. The book deals with the topic of shared responsibility in chapter 20 which focuses on ‘Attribution of conduct to multiple states and the implication of a state in the act of another state’, chapter 44 on ‘Division of reparation between responsible entities’ and chapter 63 on ‘Plurality of injured states’. However, probably it might be better to include a separate section in the book to address to the extent possible issues of shared responsibility, including between different legal entities. Persons interested to read more on the topic of shared responsibility, besides the three chapters included in this book, can check the publications section under the ACIL/SHARES project here.

The book on ‘The Law of International Responsibility’ should be a first port of call for academics and practitioners of international law interested in this area. With its carefully written entries and wealth of information, this book makes a great systematic contribution to international law scholarship.