- The misuse of legal systems and principles against an enemy, such as by damaging or delegitimizing them, wasting their time and money (e.g. SLAPP suits), or winning a public relations victory.
- A tactic used by repressive regimes to label and discourage civil society or individuals from claiming their legal rights via national or international legal systems. This is especially common in situations when individuals and civil society use non-violent methods to highlight or oppose discrimination, corruption, lack of democracy, limiting freedom of speech, violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law.
The term is a portmanteau of the words law and warfare.
Origin of the termEdit
Perhaps the first use of the term "lawfare" was in the 1975 manuscript Whither Goeth the Law, which argues that the Western legal system has become overly contentious and utilitarian as compared to the more humanitarian, norm-based Eastern system.[clarification needed]
A more frequently cited use of the term was Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.'s 2001 essay authored for Harvard's Carr Center. In that essay, Dunlap defines lawfare as "the use of law as a weapon of war". He later expanded on the definition, explaining lawfare was "the exploitation of real, perceived, or even orchestrated incidents of law-of-war violations being employed as an unconventional means of confronting" a superior military power.
Lawfare may involve the law of a nation turned against its own officials, but more recently it has been associated with the spread of universal jurisdiction, that is, one nation or an international organization hosted by that nation reaching out to seize and prosecute officials of another.
Whether a positive or negative termEdit
Colonel Charles Dunlap describes lawfare as "a method of warfare where law is used as a means of realizing a military objective". In this sense lawfare may be a more humane substitute for military conflict. Colonel Dunlap considers lawfare overall a "cynical manipulation of the rule of law and the humanitarian values it represents".
Benjamin Wittes, Robert Chesney, and Jack Goldsmith employed the word in the name of the Lawfare Blog, which focuses on national security law and which has explored the term and the debate over what lawfare means and whether it should be considered exclusively a pejorative. (See: Welcome to Lawfare, By Benjamin Wittes. Wednesday, September 1, 2010; also see: About Lawfare: A Brief History of the Term and the Site, at: https://www.lawfareblog.com/about-lawfare-brief-history-term-and-site.)
Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has argued that lawfare should not have only a negative connotation, but that it also refers to the sharply contested legal debates in the U.S. surrounding national security, and national security law. Wittes writes, "The name Lawfare refers both to the use of law as a weapon of conflict and, perhaps more importantly, to the depressing reality that America remains at war with itself over the law governing its warfare with others."
The Lawfare Project argues lawfare is exclusively negative, defining it as "the abuse of Western laws and judicial systems to achieve strategic military or political ends". From this perspective, lawfare consists of "the negative manipulation of international and national human rights laws to accomplish purposes other than, or contrary to, those for which they were originally enacted". In a 2010 speech on the topic, Lawfare Project Director Brooke Goldstein stated that lawfare is "the abuse of the law and our judicial systems to undermine the very principles they stand for: the rule of law, the sanctity of innocent human life, and the right to free speech."
The NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference called for the "establishment of a war crimes tribunal" against Israel. NGOs have used universal jurisdiction statutes in Europe and North America to bring forward such cases. These statutes allow courts to preside over cases in which one or more of the parties (or events at issue) are foreign. In some countries, such as Spain, an NGO can apply to a court directly for an arrest warrant or to launch a criminal investigation without the knowledge or approval of the government. Many cases have been brought forward against Israeli officials and those associated with Israel's military, accusing them of war crimes. These cases have been heard in both Israel and in other countries.
Some supporters of Israel, such as Shurat HaDin (Israeli Law Centre), have been accused of using "lawfare" to get authorities to seize activist ships bound for Gaza (known as the "Gaza flotilla").
In November 2006, Al-Haq brought a case in the UK Court of Appeal against the British government to end export licenses to Israel to "secure the implementation of the July 2004 [ICJ] Advisory Opinion on Israel's Wall". The case was dismissed in November 2008.
In February 2009, Al-Haq filed a claim for judicial review before the High Court of England and Wales challenging the British government over its failure to fulfill its alleged “obligations under international law with respect to Israel’s activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The case was dismissed in July 2009, and the dismissal was affirmed by an appellate court in February 2010.
In March 2010, Al-Haq filed a criminal complaint alleging that a Dutch company, Riwal, "was complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity through its construction of the Annexation Wall, ‘the Wall,’ and illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank." The complaint was dismissed in May 2013.
According to Canadian MP and former minister Irwin Cotler, the use of law to delegitimize Israel is present in five areas: United Nations, international law, humanitarian law, the struggle against racism and the struggle against genocide.
Joshua Mintz, writing in The Jerusalem Post in September 2011, referring to the Israel fears of lawfare, says, "it's quite possible that Israel, at least within the legal landscape, may actually benefit from the Palestinian statehood bid." Douglas Bloomfield writes that "Palestinian lawfare against Israel could further isolate the Jewish state" as well as raise issues regarding overseas travel for Israeli leaders who might fear arrest on war crimes charges. In addition, Bloomfield suggested "if Abbas goes ahead with waging lawfare, he will open a new stage in the conflict that is likely to set back the cause of peace."
On 9 February 2020, Palestinian lawyers planned to file lawsuits in US and Europe courts against politicians and businesses involved in the implementation of US President Donald Trump's a recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace, called "Peace to Prosperity."
South China Sea disputeEdit
In contrast to most world governments, the People's Republic of China has explicitly recognized lawfare ("falu zhan" or "legal warfare") as an essential component of its strategic doctrine. The activities of the People's Republic of China in relation to the Territorial disputes in the South China Sea is frequently cited example of lawfare by the Chinese government. In particular, China has asserted sovereign control over several areas in the South China Sea, and has restricted access to areas within its alleged sovereign territory or exclusive economic zone. In support of its claims, China has issued official state declarations (e.g., Notes Verbales) and enacted domestic laws that assert its sovereignty or effective control of portions of the Sea.
A notable US official cited in connection with asserted lawfare is Henry Kissinger. Kissinger faced questioning and possible prosecution in France, again in Brazil, and then in England (the latter initiated by Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón) because of Kissinger's involvement as a Nixon Administration official with Operation Condor. Kissinger subsequently opined that universal jurisdiction risks "substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments".
Harvard School of Law professor Jack Goldsmith, an opponent to the expansion of international human rights and universal jurisdiction, states in his book The Terror Presidency that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was concerned with the possibility of lawfare waged against Bush administration officials, and that Rumsfeld "could expect to be on top of the list". Rumsfeld addresses the effects of lawfare in his memoir Known and Unknown.
Questions remain unresolved of the possibility of lawfare-type prosecution, in Italy and Germany of CIA agents involved in international abduction known as extraordinary rendition by the United States, and, in Spain, before Magistrate Garzón of the Bush Six, American attorneys who created what The New York Times called "the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay".
In Latin-America, lawfare has a different connotation as it is deployed to describe the judicialization of politics against progressive politicians </ref>https://www.editorialcapitalintelectual.com.ar/productos/bienvenidos-al-lawfare/ </ref>
- History of Lawfare, Dunlap, 2001
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- Lawfare Cases, and their NGO Initiators
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