The Cuban Embargo – An Ineffective Tool

The Cuban embargo began as retaliation against Fidel Castro’s expropriation of around $1.6 billion worth of American property in the early 1960s.[1] The embargo functioned as a way to pressure Cuba to sever its ties to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[2] After the fall of the Soviet Union, American administrations have supported the embargo as a tool to pressure the Cuban government towards respecting its citizens’ human rights and democratic ideals.[3]

In theory, the embargo should have compelled Cuba into becoming a democratic state, but in reality, the fifty-year-old-embargo has both failed to protect Cuban citizens’ human rights[4] and failed to further democratic ideals.[5] The embargo demonizes The United States to Cubans because the Cuban government’s propagandists are able to portray The United States as an enemy to prosperity.[6]

Since 1992, a majority of The United Nations has continuously voted to repeal the embargo and members have even gone as far as deeming it a “violation of international law.”[7] Additionally, former Presidential candidate, George McGovern, spoke against the embargo explaining that, “…[w]e seem to think it’s safe to open the door to a billion communists in China but for some reason, we’re scared to death of the Cubans.”[8]

President Obama’s recent announcement that The United States would be easing its diplomatic relations with Cuba does not mean that The United States is normalizing relations with Cuba. But rather, the easing of diplomatic relations is a step in the right direction, for all parties involved, towards a less expensive and more effective way to reach The United States’ humanitarian and democratic goals.

Jose Figueroa is a 2L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law


[1]      Alberto R. Coll, Harming Human Rights in the Name of Promoting Them: The Case of the Cuban Embargo, 12 UCLA J. Int’l L. & For. Aff. 199, 201 (2007) available on LexisNexis.

[2]      Id.

[3]      Id.

[4]      Id. at 235

[5]      Id. at 273

[6]      Cuba Embargo: Congressional and Presidential Changes to US Policy, 1990s to 2000s,

[7]      United Nations: Meetings Coverage and Press Releases,

[8]      Steven Walker, Cuba and the Miami Five Injustice, Morning Star (Feb. 1, 2015, 2:50 PM),

Turkey/Cyprus Dispute

By: Daniel Mengisteab

In 2011 the discovery of a substantial natural gas reserve off the coast of Cyprus was thought to have brought renewed hope in the reunification of the island of Cyprus as well as Turkey’s ascension into the European Union.[1] However the Republic of Cyprus canceled all talks in October 2014 as the parties involved couldn’t be further apart.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only formally recognized by Turkey, insisted that they too have rights to the reserve. Turkey dispatched a research vessel accompanied by navy warships in the Republic of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in an effort to prevent any drilling until a deal has been made. Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus nor their jurisdiction over the reserve.

Turkey’s ‘provocative actions,’[2] are what led to the Greek Cypriots canceling all talks and instead moving to gather support from other nations in the region. The gas reserve also falls within Israeli jurisdiction, leading Israel to condemn Ankara’s infringement on Cyprus’ rights.

It is estimated that there are up to 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Cypriot jurisdiction[3] and up to 21 trillion cubic feet in Israeli jurisdiction.[4] Given the rising energy needs in Europe[5] as well as the recent economic struggles of the Republic of Cyprus,[6] it is no wonder why the stakes are so high. Turkey’s research vessel and naval ships were scheduled to leave the area on December 30th and did so for a brief period. During this period, representatives of the UN attempted to bring all the parties back to the negotiating table, with President Anastasiades publicly raising the possibility of negotiating the proceeds of the natural gas with the Turkish Cypriots.[7]

This mild concession was only meet with a new directive from Ankara for the Turkish Vessels to remain until April 6th.[8] Since the return of Turkish vessels in Cyprus’ EEZ, the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide has admitted that “right now there are no prospects for an immediate meeting and I think that will be the [case] for quite a while.”[9]

Turkey’s willingness to play a zero-sum game in the negotiation process has destroyed all hope of bringing the 30+ yearlong Cyprus dispute to an end any time soon. Despite the complex scenario, the appropriate deal would see all parties benefit. It will be interesting to see how Turkey will handle the situation after April 6th when the Turkish vessels are scheduled to leave again.

Daniel Mengisteab is a Master’s Degree candidate at Penn State’s School of International Affairs and a Resident Student Blogger for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at Penn State Law.











Can/Should the U.S. Use Targeted Attacks Against Boko Haram?

Eight-month-old Afiniki lost her left arm in a Boko Haram attack on the Christian village of Chakawa in Jos, Nigeria, January 26th, 2014.
(Andy Spyra/Laif/Redux


During the first weeks of January 2015, the fundamentalist, Islamist, terror organization, Boko Haram, reportedly killed an estimated 2,000 innocent people in Nigeria.[1]  During that same week, claimed members of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) carried out a series of attacks against members of the Jewish community in France and the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.  Twelve people were killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo and four were killed in a Jewish grocery store near Paris.[2]

Following these atrocities, the world news agencies flooded their broadcasts with different accounts of the attacks that occurred in France, yet little was mentioned about the 2,000 dead at the hands of Boko Haram, in Africa.[3]  Some may attribute this to the prominent role that Europe, and specifically France, plays in the broadcasting of world news.  Others may say that these attacks were more noticeable to the larger news agencies because it is easier for members of the western world to relate to the suffering of other Westerners, opposed to members of an African culture a world away.

Regardless of the reasons for the saturation of the media outlets, very few can argue against the idea that something needs to be done to prevent the genocide that happened in Nigeria from occurring again.  Unfortunately, to date, there has been no resolution passed by Congress to ensure an atrocity like this never happens again.  So why hasn’t the President, as he has done many times before against other “terrorist organizations,” taken direct action against Boko Haram?

Legally, this opens the debate on whether using the Authorization of Use for Military Force (AUMF),[4] issued by Congress in the wake of the attacks against America on September 11, 2001 (and its predecessors), as a justification for targeted action against a terrorist organization, in this case, Boko Haram.  (The possible actions of the president in this situation strikes to the heart of many other legal questions, but this article will focus on the aforementioned AUMF).  The question on whether the AUMF can be used to target Boko Haram begins with a separation of powers argument and ends with an interpretation of Section 2(a) of the AUMF:

[T}he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, . . . in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States . . .

Using this language, former President Bush and President Obama both carried out targeted attacks in Syria, interrogated suspected and confirmed terrorist leaders, and conducted drone attacks on terrorist leaders in other Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian countries.

This leaves us with the ultimate legal question: whether the president has the authority under the AUMF, a congressional act, to order a targeted attack against Boko Haram in Nigeria?   Subsequent questions include: (1) Are there enough ties to connect Boko Haram to an “organization” that “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11[?]” (2) Would a targeted attack “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States [?]”

Summarizing the answers to these important questions: Yes, the President arguably has the authority under the AUMF to order a targeted attack against Boko Haram because (1) Boko Haram has been tied to Al Qaida both financially and through leadership affiliations,[5] and (2) because left alone, Boko Haram will only gain influence and power in the region, and in today’s ease of movement and access to information, Boko Haram could easily set its sights on the United States,[6] the pillar of world capitalism and a supposed affront to Islamist fundamentalism.

Ultimately, when faced with the question, should the U.S. use targeted attacks against Boko Haram, this blogger answers with a resounding yes. To protect the innocents of Africa, to protect U.S. interests and citizens abroad (a topic expanded upon in future blogs), and to protect the U.S. from probable future terrorist attacks conducted by this extremely dangerous and brutal terror organization.

Steven Ziegler is a 2L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law







Responsibility to Protect: Nigeria

By: Kevin Prucino

In 2001 the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty first articulated the principle of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) in its report “The Responsibility to Protect” released in December of 2001.  The report addressed state sovereignty issues raised by military intervention in the humanitarian crises of Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, and the lack of intervention in Rwanda. [1] R2P embodies the principle that “sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people”. [2] In October 2005, R2P was unanimously adopted in paragraphs 138–140 of the UN World Summit Outcome Document. In April 2006, United Nations Security Council reaffirmed the principle in Resolution 1674. [3] R2P is limited to the four crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes.  Fordham Law professor Thomas H. Lee in “The Law of War and the Responsibility to Protect Civilians: A Reinterpretation” interprets the “three pillars” of R2P as:

  1. A sovereign state has a basic responsibility to protect civilians within its borders,
  2. [T]he rest of the world has a responsibility to ensure that every state honors its responsibility to protect, and
  3. [I]f a state fails in its responsibility, then other states may use all necessary means, including armed force, to protect the civilians at risk. [4]

Amongst the worldwide turmoil caused by the acts of ISIS and the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria is receiving international condemnation.  This month, Boko Haram was responsible for the loss of an estimated 2,000 lives during a spree of slaughtering, kidnapping, and burning of Nigerian villages. [5] In April of 2014 Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls prompting the “Bring Back Our Girls” awareness campaign. As of October, 219 schoolgirls are still missing. [6] One of the most recent and deplorable means of violence is the use of abducted children as young as 10 for suicide bombing. [5] Since Boko Haram’s inception in 2002 it is estimated the militant group is responsible for the displacement of 1.5 million people in Africa. [5] Additionally, an estimated 10,000 civilians have lost their lives at the hands of Boko Haram, and their militants number around 8,000. [5]  Secretary of State John Kerry described them as “…without question one of the most evil and threatening terrorist entities on the planet today,” during an appearance in Bulgaria.. [7]

For R2P intervention in Nigeria, a mandate by the UN is necessary to confer legitimacy to the intervening state, this requirement being an effort to curtail the use of R2P as a political tool.  The UN will mandate the intervention only for the four named crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes.  The International Criminal Court defines crimes against humanity as: ““Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”  Murder, extermination, enslavement and other depraved acts are enumerated in the definition. [8] Boko Haram is committing crimes against humanity in Nigeria with their widespread murder and other inhumane actions.  Considering the massacres this month a strong case can be made that Nigeria is failing in its responsibility to protect the civilians within its borders; the casualties of Nigerian civilians are getting exponentially worse and gruesome in nature.   R2P favors exhaustion of peaceful intervention methods before the use of force; therefore, it is uncertain what the extent of intervention would be if a mandate was granted.  Regardless of the intervention methods, a R2P mandate offers a legitimate course for the United States and other countries to offer substantial assistance and even military force to help those currently dealing with large scale tragedy in Nigeria.

Kevin Prucino is a 2L and a Resident Student Blogger with the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University-Dickinson School of Law.


  1. ICISS (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty), The Responsibility to Protect, Ottawa (2001) available at
  4. Lee, T. H., The Law of War and the Responsibility to Protect Civilians: A Reinterpretation, 55 Harvard Int’l L. J. 251 (2014) available at

Greece Bailout Expiration: No Hopes of Debt Reduction

By: Jonathan Burr

For about five years Greece has been struggling to rebuild its infrastructure and pay its bailout debts, and the bailout program that has been in place is about to expire at the end of this month. Liz Alderman reported in the New York Times that, on Sunday February 1, 2015, French officials publicly stated that they support Greek’s efforts to get the country moving in the right direction. However, with this support came a warning.  French officials said there would be no write down of Greece’s debt. Michel Sapin, the French finance minister made these statements during a visit from the new Greece finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis.

Varoufakis compared Greece’s reliance on funds from the international bailout package as a drug addiction.  To cure this addiction, Varoufakis indicated that Greece would not be seeking its installment payment of the bailout package.  The funds of the international bailout package come with numerous strict conditions of how the payments can be used and development steps moving forward.  It appears that Varoufakis no longer wants to accept the payments because of the conditions that must be adhered too.  According to Varoufakis, Greece is negotiating a new deal with creditors and plans to have it finalized by May.  He told the New York Times that Greece would offer a detailed proposal for reducing the debt burden in the near future.

President Obama reacted to what was occurring in Greece.  Obama stated, “Greece needed to tackle essential reforms, including improving tax collection.  In order for Greece to compete in the world markets, they had to initiate a series of changes.”

Jonathan Burr is a 3L at The Pennsylvania State University–The Dickinson School of Law, and a Senior Editor on the Journal of Law and International Affairs.

Alderman, Liz, France Offers Support, but no Debt Relief, to Greece, NY Times (Feb. 1, 2015), available at