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International Law

DMCA Abuse: How corporations are using US copyright law to harass and silence individuals

Prof. Murray Hunter

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was unanimously passed by the United States Senate on 12th October 1998, and signed into law by President Clinton on 28th October the same year. The Act was put into law to interpret and enact two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties which dealt with copyright circumvention and providing Internet service providers (ISP) and online service providers (OSP) safe harbour against copyright liability, provided they meet specific requirements.

The DMCA criminalizes the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly called digital rights management) that control access to copyrighted works. Further, the DMCA also criminalizes the act of circumventing any access control, even if there is no actual infringement of the copyrighted material itself, i.e., providing a mere link to a third site where suspected copyright material exists is criminal.

The Act has extended the reach of US law beyond its traditional geographical jurisdiction. Moreover, the Act has given copyright right holders a “lethal weapon” to utilize against parties who allegedly breach their claimed copyright. That is, the ability to claim copyright breach directly against any individual. Further, the Act enables copyright holders to force ISPs and OSPs to take down any identified alleged infringing material immediately from any internet site.

However the Act doesn’t give respondents any recourse against a DMCA takedown notice before any material is taken down by the ISPs and OSPs.

Through the DMCA takedown notice procedure a copyright holder becomes a prosecuting judge. A copyright holder need only serve a takedown notice on an ISP or OSP to take down any third party’s material from the internet to have it instantly removed.

The rules and procedures of this process are prescribed under section 512 of the Act. ISPs and OSPs are given immunity from prosecution from both the copyright holders and respondents to takedown notices, if they strictly adhere to the takedown and counter-takedown notice procedures prescribed in Section 512.

This ‘safe harbor’ provision gives ISPs and OSPs incentive to cooperate with copyright holders who are in the majority corporations. Section 512 even exempts ISPs and OSPs from ‘good faith’ in the removal of any material, i.e., they may know the takedown notice is flawed in some way, providing the procedures are followed. In effect ISPs and OSPs become the agents of the copyright holders and aren’t obliged to consider the interests of their users, except through facilitating the counter-takedown notice procedure.

As mentioned above, the material identified in any takedown notice must be removed from the site identified. The respondent can only respond to the copyright holder through issuing a counter notice which identifies the person who put up the material, submits to the jurisdiction of a US court, and subjects the respondent to the laws of perjury in the response. It is the responsibility of the ISP or OSP to pass on the counter notice to the copyright holder and if legal action hasn’t been taken against the respondent in the takedown notice within 10-14 days, the ISP/OSP may reinstate the original material to their website.

The DMCA takedown notice procedure deems a respondent of a takedown notice guilty. There is no provision for a hearing from the respondent to either the purported copyright holder or ISP/OSP before the material is removed. At a minimum any material subject to a takedown notice cannot reappear for at least 14 days.

The takedown notice procedure is dreadfully biased towards the purported copyright holder. Section 512 gives copyright holders protection and power over respondents to takedown notices. For example, unlike respondents who decide to file a counter notice, the copyright holder issuing the takedown notice in the first place, need not submit itself to the jurisdiction of the US legal system. The issuer of a DMCA takedown notice may be, and is in many cases, a foreign corporation with no intention to submit itself to the jurisdiction of US law. The corporation can use the DMCA for convenience to rid the internet of some material at its own whim, where it is almost practically impossible by a respondent to make legal claim for issuing a false takedown notice.

If a respondent of a DMCA takedown notice takes a copyright holder to court, there is no guarantee that the issuer of the notice will submit itself to US law, unless it is already a US legal entity. Even within the US itself, some issuers of takedown notices have escaped jurisdiction of the US court system.

Sadly, US case law has tended to protect the issuers of false takedown notices. In 2004, the decision in Rossi V. the Motion Picture Association of America found that the DMCA takedown notice issuer had to actually know their claim was false and not merely lazy or mistaken for a respondent to succeed in their claim against a party who issued a false takedown notice.

Further, the issuer of a DMCA takedown notice bears little responsibility for false notices. Although Section 512 (f) makes the issuer of any false notice liable for damages, the cost, time and effort to take a copyright holder to court for issuing a false notice according to current case law in the United States would most likely only compensate the respondent for his or her legal costs in direct relation to the takedown notice and minimal damages.

There is nothing within Section 512 that restrains copyright holders from issuing DMCA takedown notices through the principle of fair use. The legally enshrined principle of fair use allows for the copying of small amounts of material for comment, criticism, or parody. Such use can be done without the need to get permission from the copyright holder. Section 1201 (c) states the underlying substantive copyright infringement rights, remedies, and defences, doesn’t allow the use of fair use for defence of a DMCA takedown notice. Fair use is not exempted as a circumvention action and has thus not exempted from criminality under DMCA.

This weakness in the DMCA has allowed for the exponential growth of DMCA takedown notices since the Act became law almost 18 years ago.

Twitter receives about 10,000 DMCA takedown notices per month which has grown 58% from the year before. WordPress receives about 700-800 DMCA takedown notices per month, up 55% from the year before. Google receives about 80,000 DMCA takedown notices per month, which has grown also around 50% in volume from the previous year. If the fair use provision was upheld in section 512, the number of takedown notices would be far less and more manageable by ISPs and OSPs to handle. Instead we are reaching a situation where free speech, expression, and even creativity are being stifled by the DMCA.

Earlier this year Jennifer Urban and Brianna Schofield from University of California, with Joe Karaganis of Columbia University found in a 160 page in-depth study looking at 100 million notices, that more than 32% of DMCA takedown notices were either flawed or had characteristics which raised questions about their validity. This equates to more than 35 million notices. This somewhat agrees with Twitter’s own data indicating that around 33% of notices it receives are ineffective. WordPress found 60% of the DMCA takedown notices it receives as being ineffective.

One very recent case that illustrates the above issues and highlights several sinister aspects of DMCA abusers’ behaviour relates to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its Legal Director Howard Stupp. Howard Stupp is well known for his vigilance in protecting IOC intellectual property, and even made a ban on the use of short GIFs on social media during the recent Olympic Games.

Stupp instituted an automated system which systematically searched the internet for key words. The system was so sophisticated that winners’ names were added as key words to pick out new postings during the games. However what was apparently absent was any human interface to ensure that the system didn’t mistakenly highlight postings that didn’t breach IOC copyright. As a result in one such case, a DMCA takedown notice was sent to Twitter claiming a posting had breached IOC copyright by showing a GIF of the recent games, when in fact the Tweet was posted weeks before the games and GIF was of another sporting event not under the jurisdiction of the IOC.

DMCA1

The Tweet subject to an IOC DMCA takedown notice issues by Howard Stupp

DMCA2

A partial screen shot of the DMCA takedown notice issued by Howard Stupp

Like the example above, the use of automated systems leads to questions about accuracy and fairness in due process of copyright holders issuing DMCA takedown notices. Human interface is required to ensure copyright holders exercise a duty of care. Automated search systems have turned the DMCA takedown system into a massive fishing expedition where individuals who breach copyright may be caught along with a large group of innocent individuals.

In the case above, the recipient of the DMCA takedown notice issued by the IOC attempted to contact the organization through the email given in the takedown notice (The issuer of a DMCA notice doesn’t have to state their address like the requirement for respondents to do so) to point out their mistake, but this was to no avail. Repeated emails were just left with silence.

The fact that the IOC refuses to enter into any correspondence with respondents indicates the principle of ‘good faith’ is not being adhered to.

The IOC, like many other corporations not registered in the United States are difficult to actually locate and thus beyond the jurisdiction of US law. This makes it extremely difficult to take any legal action against parties who issue false DMCA takedown notices. The DMCA takedown notice system is allowing people like Howard Stupp to act without any duty of care and legal responsibility. The IOC must be aware that some of its DMCA are false through mistaken identification of content (i.e., no one has checked the links the automated system has identified).

Organizations like the IOC will continue to issue frivolous takedown notices in a contemptuous and arrogant manner, and ISP/OSPs like Twitter will continue to support large corporations against their own users because of the nature of the current takedown and counter notice procedures in section 512. These are all massive abuses of the system which must be corrected.

There are numerous other well reported abuses which indicate the DMCA is being used by corporations for other motives than seeking out copyright infringement. Warner Bros filed DMCA takedown notices with Google as a tool to takedown websites which would lead to possible infringing content, rather than infringing content on websites as the DMCA specifies. Sony has been trying to obtain license fees on the fair use of their copyrighted material. A web security firm used the DMCA takedown system to silence a vocal critic of its services in the guise of copyright infringement. The London Sunday Times sent a DMCA takedown notice to eliminate a critical article written in The Intercept. Some organizations have issued DMCA takedown notices against bloggers just to find out their identity. The DMCA takedown notice procedure is cheaper to utilize against critics than using defamation laws, which many corporations are taking advantage of. People with a grudge use the DMCA takedown notice procedure to attack and force suspension of their social media accounts.

The safe harbour provision of Section 512 makes the ISP and OSP willing collaborators with organizations which use DMCA takedown notices as a tool for other agenda that the Act was not intended for.

DMCA takedown notices only allege breaches of copyright infringement. DMCA takedown notices do not prove cases of copyright infringement.

This is a denial of natural justice where the takedown and counter notice procedure assumes guilt before innocence, contrary to common law.

With the large number of DMCA takedown notices coming in to ISP/OSPs, it is time consuming and costly for these organizations to deal with each individual notice. They are doing the work of copyright holders and bearing all the costs involved.

The unbalanced onuses placed upon the recipient in filing a counter notice, and fear of the costs of defending any potential action in a court of law is the probable reason why there are very few counter notices. DMCA takedown notices, as can be seen by the example above are intimidating to many people who receive them. Further, liability is unbalanced and favours copyright holders. Many corporations don’t fear suits as they aren’t within the jurisdiction of a US court unlike the respondents who must formally put themselves under US court jurisdiction in filing a counter notice.

Large corporations like Sony, Disney, Comcast, Viacom, and others used automated systems to issue DMCA takedown notices which often misidentify material. This is an injustice upon innocent parties who are at risk of having their social media accounts closed if they receive three takedown notices under the multiple offender provision of the DMCA.

The DMCA takedown notice procedure has harassed many internet and social media users, silenced critics of corporations, and disrupted people running blogs. Section 512 (f) is toothless in restraining corporations using automated software and takedown notices go on ‘fishing expeditions’ to seek out copyright infringers. Innocent peoples’ rights are being violated and in some cases damage done to them where no practical recourses exist to remedy the injustice. The Howard Stupps of the corporations are free to run their agendas disregarding the principles of ‘good faith’ and fairness. They appear immune from responsibility for their reckless actions.

Section 512 has failed to protect people from false takedown notices and allowed the DMCA to be abused by corporations for their own ends. The use of the DMCA to silence critics and eliminate articles written by journalists in all probability if challenged in a US court could even be found unconstitutional due to its incongruence with the 1st Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and the press.

Let’s hope the US Copyright Office corrects these shortfalls of the DMCA in its current review of the legislation and considers the introduction of statutory damages and/or bonds to decrease the issuing of false notices.

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International Law

Sikhs And Justice: An International Humanitarian Law Approach To The Study Of Operation Bluestar

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6th of June 1984 is considered as the darkest day in the history of the Sikhs all around the world. This was the day when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple, the holy shrine of the Sikhs to drive out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed men who had taken refuge in the Temple complex since 1982. Bhindranwale had started a movement to attain justice for Sikhs who were being discriminated on various grounds. The Indian Government saw this as a secessionist movement, which is why Bhindranwale and his group were considered as a threat to the nation. This paper endeavours to study the Operation Blue Star from the international humanitarian law perspective by establishing it as a non-international armed conflict. It is divided into five parts. The first part deals with the history and the background to the operation and also highlights the reason why the Indian Army attacked Golden Temple; the second part then throws light upon the definition and the types of the armed conflict in the international humanitarian law and also ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the third part tests the incident of operation against the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the fourth part discusses the nature of State’s response which is considered in excess in terms of human rights and humanitarian law obligations. These four parts are then followed by a conclusion.

Background

Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1469 in Punjab, a state being shared by both India and Pakistan. Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism played a major role in the Indian Freedom Movement[1] but did not receive much appreciation even though they were promised jobs and a better livelihood in the post-Independence era. The newly framed Indian Constitution’s Article 25 identifies Sikhs as Hindus, which aggrieved the Sikhs even more leading to a lot of resentment against the Indian state. In the 1950s, the linguistic groups across India sought statehood that led to the formation of a State Re-organisation Commission in 1953. The government of India was apprehensive of carving out a Punjabi speaking state as that would also lead to dividing the state on religious lines between Hindus and Sikhs. The hindi newspapers from Jalandhar urged the hindus to exhort hindi as their mother tongue which is why the demand for a separate Punjabi Suba (State) was defeated. The Akali Dal, a political party formed during the Gurudwara Reform Movement in the 1920s, continued their agitation for the creation of a separate Punjabi Suba and it was finally agreed to in 1966. Thus areas in the South of Punjab that spoke the Haryanvi dialect of the hindi language formed a new state of Haryana, the Pahari speaking areas were merged with Himachal Pradesh and the remaining Punjabi speaking area retained the name Punjab with Chandigarh as a Union Territory and as Punjab and Haryana’s common capital.

This linguistic reorganization of the states created a lot of problems. Many of the Punjabi speaking areas were given to the State of Haryana, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory and the joint capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana and the Centre took control over the waters of the rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and made arbitrary allocation. The Centre even took control over various power and irrigation projects. After the reorganization of the state, Akali Dal gained the majority in the Punjab Assembly elections in 1967 but Punjab saw an unstable government for five long years owing to defection. Later on in 1972 after the Bangladesh’s Liberation War Congress emerged victorious at both the Centre as well as in Punjab. Nevertheless in 1973 the working group of the Akali Dal came with a resolution, which was adopted at Anandpur Sahib and came to be known as Anandpur Sahib Resolution.  It advocated for the federal structure in which the Central Government should actualize the federal concept of India by granting autonomy to the provincial government in all the areas except defence, currency and foreign relations. It was in 1982 that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, leader of Damdami Taksal-a Sikh religious organization joined hands with the Akali Dal in order to implement the Anandpur Resolution. Bhindranwale as he was fondly called grew popular amongst the Sikh population of Punjab but notorious with the government. He was even arrested for the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, editor of a popular Hindi daily newspaper who had campaigned against Punjabi being adopted as a medium of instruction in Hindu schools and even urged the hindus to accept Hindi as their mother tongue and reject Punjabi in order to defeat the Anandpur Sahib resolution. However, Bhindranwale was released without being charge sheeted due to lack of evidence. Meanwhile the law and order situation deteriorated in Punjab and there were a number of confrontations between the police, Babbar Khalsa and Dal Khalsa’s army. Later on sometime in 1982, Bhindranwale was invited by Harchand Singh Longowal to take refuge in Guru Nanak Niwas, Golden Temple’s guest house. Bhindranwale then even took charge of the Akal Takht, one of the five Takhts of the Sikh religion also known as the seat of temporal justice, thus becoming the Takht’s Jathedar. He then fortified the Temple with heavy machine guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles were brought in.[2] Though Bhindranwale strongly advocated for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution which mostly focused on the Centre-State relations, greater status to Punjabi and the distribution of the waters of the rivers yet it was mostly seen as a secessionist movement by the Central Government. Indira  Gandhi then ordered the expulsion of Bhindranwale and his army from the Golden Temple Complex. The Indian National Army took charge of the situation and attacked the Golden Temple with tanks and artillery on the 6th of June 1984. Thousands of pilgrims belonging to the Sikh faith had gathered in and around Golden Temple, to mark the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and also the founder of the Temple since the 3rd of June and though entry to the Temple was permitted but they were not allowed to exit it. The survivors of the attack are of the view that the Army deliberately chose this day to carry out the operation in order to wipe out as many Sikhs as possible. The unarmed civilians were attacked incessantly. Even the Sikh Reference Library, which is located inside the complex, was attacked and ancient scripts and artefacts were looted by the army and loaded in trucks to be taken to Delhi. The operation was considered extremely disproportionate and not at all necessary, as the number of Bhindrawale’s armed forces was extremely small as compared to the collateral damage. The civilians who survived often call it as a conspiracy to kill Sikhs and finish the faith in one go. Though the official number of casualties is reported as a few hundreds but the actual number soar really high. The operation was seen as an attack to crush the Sikh militants out of the Temple, yet the author in this paper tries to equate it with non-international armed conflict in order to trigger the mechanism of international humanitarian law principles, thus making the Indian State responsible under the international law.

Armed Conflict

International humanitarian law (IHL) is a branch of international law that governs the conduct of armed conflict. It applies only to a situation of an armed conflict.[3] Therefore, in order to determine whether IHL applies to a situation of violence it is necessary to first asses whether the situation amounts to an ‘armed conflict’. IHL does not provide for a definition of armed conflict. However, it recognizes two types of armed conflicts: international armed conflicts (IAC) opposing two or more states and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between governmental forces and non-governmental armed groups, or between such groups only, which was established by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.[4]Prior to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it was thought that civil conflicts were outside the scope of international law. Since the situation of Operation Bluestar under study resembles a NIAC therefore only the ingredients of a NIAC would be discussed. NIAC can be applied through Common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, customary IHL and Additional Protocol II (AP II) where ratified.

Common Article 3 applies to “armed conflicts not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties“. These include armed conflicts in which one or more non-governmental armed groups are involved. Depending on the situation, hostilities may occur between governmental armed forces and non-governmental armed groups or between such groups only. However, NIAC needs to be distinguished from internal disturbances including isolated and sporadic acts of violence.

AP II on the other hand, applies to armed conflicts “which take place in the territory of aHigh Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over apart of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operationsand to implement this Protocol”.

This definition is narrower than the notion of NIAC under common Article 3 in two aspects.

Firstly, it introduces a requirement of territorial control, by providing that non-governmental parties must exercise such territorial control “as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol”.

Secondly, AP II expressly applies only to armed conflicts between State armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organised armed groups. Contrary to common Article 3, the Protocol does not apply to armed conflicts occurring only between non-State armed groups.

In this context, it must be reminded that Additional Protocol II “develops and supplements” common Article 3 “without modifying its existing conditions of application“. This means that this restrictive definition is relevant for the application of Protocol II only, but does not extend to the law of NIAC in general.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court, in its article 8, para. 2 (f), confirms the existence of a definition of a non-international armed conflict not fulfilling the criteria of Protocol II.

Statute of the ICC, art. 8 para. 2 (f): “It applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups“.

In order to distinguish an armed conflict, in the meaning of common Article 3, from lessserious forms of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions, riots or acts ofbanditry, the situation must reach a certain threshold of confrontation. It has been generally accepted that the lower threshold found in Article 1(2) of APII, which excludes internal disturbances and tensions from the definition of NIAC, also applies to common Article 3.

Two criteria are usually used in this regard:

First, the hostilities must reach a minimum level of intensity. This may be the case, for example, when the hostilities are of a collective character or when the government is obliged to use military force against the insurgents, instead of mere police forces.

Second, non-governmental groups involved in the conflict must be considered as “parties to the conflict”, meaning that they possess organized armed forces. This means for example that these forces have to be under a certain command structure and have the capacity to sustain military operations.

As per the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic case, an armed conflict involving non-state groups arises only if the violence is protracted and the non-state groups are organized. From the above discussion it can be made out that the following form the ingredients of a NIAC:

Armed conflict between a State and a non-State actor or between these non-State actors

A modicum of organization of any party to the conflict: According to the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic, an armed conflict involving non-State actors must involve ‘organised armed groups’, that have a clear chain of command. Each group involved in an armed conflict need not be clearly differentiated and defined, as there may be a number of loosely related armed groups involved. The ICTY Trial Chamber has further explained the following as ingredients of organization:

The existence of command structure and disciplinary rules;

Control of a determinative territory;

Access to weapons, equipment and military training;

The ability to define military strategy and use military tactics.

Protracted violence: In the Tadic case, the appeals chamber held that for a NIAC to exist there must be ‘protracted armed violence’ which has been authoritatively repeated in article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Yoram dinstein infers that occasional unrest does not amount to NIAC and that there needs to be a series of ‘isolated and sporadic’ internal disturbances for a NIAC to come into existence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Juan Carlos Abella v. Argentina concluded that an armed conflict has occurred in Argentina, even though the skirmish lasted for 30 hours in total. But Dinstein does not agree with this decision. However, the IACHR holds that in borderline cases there may be a presumption in favour of the existence of an armed conflict.

Intensity of fighting: This requirement should not be looked at as an alternative to protracted violence. The ICTR Trial Chamber in the Akayesu case had stated that the intensity of hostilities ought to be ascertained ‘on the basis of an objective criteria’. In the aftermath of Tadic, multiple judgments of the ICTY have come up with various indicia in order to assess the intensity of the fighting required in a NIAC. These include: the numbers of casualties, the diffusion of violence over territory; deployment of military units against the insurgents; the types of weapons used; the siege of towns; and the closure of towns.

Application of International Humanitarian Law to The Operation Blue Star

The situation of Punjab was dismissed as a mere law and order situation, which is why the State never became liable under the IHL regime. However, this study aims to analyze the situation in Punjab against the ingredients of the NIAC as many Sikh organizations have had asked for a UN probe in this matter as they regard it as a violation of IHL.

Armed Conflict:The situation in the 1984 attack on Golden Temple involved a confrontation between the Indian Army and the armed men, led by Bhindranwale who had taken refuge inside the Golden Temple Complex. There are documented evidences that show that the attack was conducted in a systematic manner with sophisticated weapons being used by both the sides including anti-rocket launchers, AK-47s etc.

Modicum of Organization:  The non-state actors in this conflict i.e. Bhindranwale and his followers were under the command of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. There were also other forces some named and some unnamed one of them being, Babbar Khalsa that had joined hands with the Bhindranwale and were indirectly under his control. Bhindranwala’s force had actually fortified the Golden Temple area with sophisticated weapons. General Kuldip Singh Brar who led the Operation Blue Star had pointed out at the foreign assistance received because of the foreign weapons that were seized from the Bhindranwale’s army during the operation.[5]The Khalsa army, as it was mostly referred to, had received their training under the aegis of Major General Shabeg Singh, an Indian army officer noted for his service in training of Mukti Bahini volunteers during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Major General Shabeg Singh taught the army military tactics, that he had acquired during his service with the Indian Army.From this data it can be made out that the Khalsa army satisfied the ingredients of the modicum of organization given out in the Tadic case that have acquired the status of customary international law.

Protracted Violence: The operation was not a single event of violence but rather one of the major events in order to bring the situation in Punjab under control and to drill fear in the minds of the other Sikh outfits that were said to be leading the secessionist movement.

Intensity of Fighting:The operation was one of the very intense operations in the history of the Indian Army. As mentioned above, the official number of casualties is very low, lying somewhere in a few hundreds but eyewitnesses and the survivors’ account tell a different tale altogether. As per the survivors, the pilgrims were being let in the Golden Temple from the 2nd of June 1984 but they were not allowed to leave, which is why the casualties were quite high. Bhindranwale and his army is said to be a few above hundred but the civilians who lost their lives are said to be somewhere above seven thousand. The operation saw a parallel attacks on other gurudwaras in Punjab with the deployment of about 1,00,000 army personnel throughout Punjab. The weapons used on the other hand were highly sophisticated ones. The army even broke the stairs leading to the entrance of the temple to bring in tanks. While Bhindranwale was said to be in possession of foreign weapons including machine guns, anti rocket launchers etc.[6] Most parts of Punjab especially Amritsar were brought under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Conclusion

From the analysis made above it can be said that the situation in Punjab was surely not just a law and order situation. It resembles heavily with the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict, thus a deeper study needs to be conducted in order to determine the status of the operation blue star. Sikhs for Justice, a private organization based out of United Kingdom had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights calling for the setting up of a tribunal to investigate alleged crimes against the members of the Sikh community during the 1984 Operation Blue Star. It reads that it clearly violated the basic humanitarian law provisions for the protection of the civilian population and for the protection of cultural objects and places of worship as set out in the Geneva conventions.[7] The Sikhs have been awaiting justice for the missing members of their families before and even after the operation, destruction of their holy place of worship, the Sikh Reference Library, the killing of the thousands of the civilians who had gathered inside the Golden Temple just to pay obeisance at the Temple and also for the thousands killed during the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and other parts of India after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the attack at the Golden Temple. Once the Operation is considered a NIAC it would be easy to drag the Indian State to the United Nations and submit her to the jurisdiction of a Tribunal, if it is ever set up.


[1] KS Duggal, “Sikhs in the Freedom Struggle”, Mainstream Weekly, 19 August, 2008 <https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article891.html>accessed on 21st May, 2020.

[2] Ranbir Sandhu, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale- Life, Mission and Martyrdom, (Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, 1997).

[3] Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic (Appeal Judgment), 15 July 1999, ICTY.

[4]Tadic’s case held that:

…an armed conflict exists wherever there is a resort to armed forces between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring states or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there.

[5]General Brar had said this in an interview to the press during the operation.

[6] This was revealed by General Kuldip Singh Brar in an interview during the operation.

[7]“Operation Blue Star: Sikh rights group seeks UN probe”, The Indian Express, June 7, 2017 <http://indianexpress.com/article/world/operation-blue-star-sikh-rights-group-seeks-un-probe-4693609/> accessed on May 21st, 2020.

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International Law

A legal analysis of the United Nations response to Covid 19: How the Security Council can still help

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The Covid-19 pandemic, which plagues the world currently has brought to light the inherent deficiencies in the International Legal order and its ability to combat a global catastrophe of this nature. It has caused a complicated situation in which International Law and its subjects; States and International Organisations, in particular, are struggling to uphold the principle of coordination between states, which is one of the founding principles of the system of International Law.

The United Nations is the primary International Organisation in the International Political and Legal arena. It facilitates such coordination and cooperation between states, as well as Non-State entities such as Non-Governmental Organisations and Multi-National Corporations. One of The UN’s primary organs is the Security Council, which has the primary responsibility to maintain International Peace and Security and has the power to promote effective cooperation between states using its powers to pass enforceable resolutions. In the face of arguably the most significant security threat that the world has faced in the recent past, the Security Council has come under much scrutiny for its absenteeism. Estonia, the UNSC president for May, has called the Security Council’s handling of Covid-19 a shame, further stating that the UN body has not fulfilled its responsibilities of tackling the outbreak of Covid-19.

The global nature of this pandemic clearly brings forth the dire need for international cooperation in order to counter the effects of this crisis. This effectively puts the United Nations Security Council at the forefront of any efforts to pave the way for this cooperation. In light of the recent criticism of its inability to do so, the paper seeks to analyze important issues pertaining to the role of the UNSC, its responsibilities, and powers, as well as possible actions that the Council could undertake.

The Security Council’s Mandate and Jurisdiction

The Security Council currently derives its powers to deal with the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus from past precedent as well as from a purposive interpretation of the United Nations charter. Whilst matters of health are primarily the concern of another UN body, the world health organization, the Security Council has previously discussed and debated global health emergencies, as in the case of Ebola and SARS. The UN charter, in article 24(1), gives a general characterization the Security Council’s functions and powers, which is the responsibility of upholding International peace and security. In the UNSC Resolution 2177 surrounding the Ebola crisis in West Africa, it was declared that the outbreak comes under the duties and jurisdiction of the Security Council as the communicable disease is a threat to International Peace and Security, as it could pose a threat to the stability of nations if it remains unchecked. An analysis of these principles established by the Council itself shows that the Coronavirus is a global issue that the Security Council must deal with, as it threatens International Peace and Security for five reasons. Firstly, the outbreak spans national borders and has become a global issue with an international nature, requiring an International coordinating mechanism. Secondly, it poses a significant threat to the stability of the countries affected, which has affected 213 countries as of June 1, 2020, in that it could lead to civil unrest as well as social tensions, while also affecting the political and security climate. Thirdly, the outbreak is very likely to have exceeded the economic capacity of many governments to respond, thereby outlining the need for International Action appropriately. Fourth, it has taken the lives of more than 374,569 people, as of June 1, 2020. Fifth, it would have a devastating impact on the economy the countries affected by the Coronavirus, and by extension, on the world economy. All of these reasons pose a clear threat to international peace and stability and therefore calls for immediate action by the Security Council. In the next section, the paper seeks to analyze the possible mechanisms that the Security Council could adopt in order to deal with the crisis.

What the Security Council must do

The Security Council must effectively utilize its greatest asset, the ability to coordinate a global response by the member states to combat the effects of the pandemic on the global economy as well as on human health. The Security Council, unlike the WHO, has the ability to coordinate the efforts of different countries and create binding obligations on all member countries to help counter the Coronavirus.

The Security Council, therefore, has the ability to complement the efforts made by the WHO by ensuring that the Member States do not act unilaterally to merely respond to the crisis in their countries, but adopt the more beneficial global approach. The Security Council could, therefore, convert WHO recommendations, in particular those relating to the sharing of scientific information, as well as medical and humanitarian aid amongst countries into binding Security Council resolutions. These resolutions would then become the International Law obligations of the member states, pursuant to Article 25 of the UN charter. They would, therefore, serve as a significant boost to the WHO’s efforts in combating the crisis. Furthermore, the Security Council could provide the impetus for a global coordinating mechanism for Vaccine development in order to boost the efforts made in the field of medical science through multilateral efforts.

The Security Council must also address the implications of the pandemic on the Global Economy. Several economists predict that the Coronavirus would have a devastating impact on the global economy. The Security Council must address these issues through targeted aid, as well as by using coordination mechanisms between countries and the major financial institutions on the global level, such as the World Bank and the IMF. The Security Council is perhaps the only global institution that could coordinate an effective economic response at the moment and must do so immediately, in order to ensure that the global economy is not damaged beyond repair. The Security Council must aim to harmonize national responses, which could include monetary policy, public health interventions as well as stimulus packages in order to address the economic implications of the outbreak.

The Global Response to the Healthcare crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak stands on the access and availability of healthcare goods that different countries enjoy. These “goods” primarily include masks, trained healthcare workers, protective equipment, ventilators, and in the future, would also include therapeutic treatment and vaccines. Traditionally, access to such goods has been severely inequitable in cases of a global outbreak, with distribution primarily guided by economic and political clout than actual need. This is further exemplified in the case of Intellectual Property rights and vaccines, which often make access to such vaccines to third world countries significantly costlier. This is majorly done at the benefit of the first world, which patents these vaccines and does not allow local companies to create the same vaccine in a cheaper manner in the third world without paying their due for using patented procedures. In the context of this crisis, these healthcare goods are in extremely short supply, with demand rising at unprecedented levels across most countries in the world. The Security Council has the ability to facilitate a global goods coordinating mechanism, through which the production and distribution of such goods could be achieved, in order to ensure equitable access to such goods. This could further engage with Multi-national corporations that participate in the production of such supplies in order to create a mechanism to target areas where these goods are most needed. This would be a significant aid to the states most affected by the crisis, as the UN would help facilitate the routing of these healthcare goods to the countries with the direst needs. Such a mechanism, based on cooperation, could significantly help focus and redirect resources to the most impacted areas, especially those countries that may not be able to afford and produce such goods currently.

Political Implications and Concluding Remarks

The world currently faces a global crisis of an unprecedented level. The United Nations, unlike previous crises, has not been at the forefront of this crisis, which now involves virtually all the countries of the world. At the forefront of this inaction is the conflict between China and the USA regarding responsibility for the Virus, and the role of the WHO. The countries of the European Union are operating as a separate entity altogether. China and Russia are seemingly concerned with their own state apparatus, rather than on a global response. There exists a significant void of consistent political leadership to guide a global response to the crisis. However, as the crisis worsens with every passing day, the hope that countries would come to the realization that a global response is the only way to resolve a crisis of this nature grows stronger. There is still time for the world’s most prominent International Organisation to take action. The paper presents a mechanism that the Security Council could adopt to help diminish the effects of the crisis on the world, both in terms of impacts on health and on the global economy. These emergency measures are in the interests of the world at large and are therefore likely to be adopted by the countries of the Security Council, regardless of their political considerations.

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International Law

Grappling press and Crutching Democracies

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Authors: Saumya Singh and Rajesh Ranjan*

The central tenets of liberal democracy which forms the cornerstone of its provenance, subsist in the Separation of Power among the three organs of the State viz Legislature, Judiciary and, Executive. The democratic system is widely countenanced across the Globe, being predicated on the electorates, who have the authority to elect or defenestrate a political party from the office. The informed opinion, a denouement of Free Press, provides a helm to the electorates to poise democracy and, eschew its dilapidation or debilitation. Being a watchdog, the Press foreshadows the veracity of the functions performed in proportionate tothe functions as asserted by the Government to be performed, thus, holding them answerable and accountable. Thereby, Press is considered a fourth pillar as it typifies Democracy. It acts as an oscillating factor between the two extremes, scilicet the Government and the governed, and makes an endeavor to subdue the state of incommunicado.

Irrespective of the paramount importance of media, it is garroted by mutually contrived attempts in various democratic countries. The Freedom to express and the expressions to be understood are imperiled due to the stinted press; a road to dampened democracy. The Freedom to seek, impart, receive and disseminate information is ostensibly floundering as the autonomous media sector is relegated in some of the most influential democracies. The constant vilification or cracking down of the Press has undermined its paramountcy, autonomy and has rendered it obsequious. The independency of the Press is enthralled within the confines of Confirmation Bias and Filter bubble, puissant factors hidden somewhere within the human psyche. The critical voice of the people, a cherished possession of democracy, is forsaken by the elected leaders.

The Corona pandemic has necessitated the subsistence of free and robust media but the Government has withered it by imposing an aurora of restrictions. Mr. Antonio Guetress, the UN Secretary General, averred that Free Press curbs the pandemic of mis, mal and, disinformation by providing verified, scientific and fact-based news. Antithetical to the view undertaken by the erstwhile, Political leaders being opportunistic are employing the crisis to excoriate Journalism by punishing Journalists, which is a sobering reminder of the threat imposed on democratic liberties. This has been espoused by many leading democracies and autocratic states, as a way of combating permeation of information disorder in the digital milieu. Amid the already ailing and pre-existing vulnerableness, the desperate grapple of the Press Freedom is exacerbated by COVID-19 outbreak. The Country like India has stopped the regular press- briefing, which was meant to inform the Citizens regarding the intricacies of Corona. In the garb of this Humanitarian crisis the World leading democracies has gridlocked the Conduit of information, through direct and indirect means. The trump’s recent executive order to attenuate legal protections to those platform which censors speech for ideological reasons relevels that the leaders’ across the globe are in the quest of embedded journalism.

Flouting Press Freedom across the Globe

Journalism, across the Globe has fallen prey to the concerted acts of the authorities in cracking down on Press Freedom. Journalist are facing physical assault, threat, intimidation calls and are even being criminalized for disseminating any information which is not a friendly and biased propaganda. Journalism is being regulated through exerting financial pressure, co-opting, legislations criminalizing misinformation, fake news and rumor mongering, psychological abuse, sexual harassment and, criminal defamation. The Governments are using the laws at their convenience for harsh reprisal and stamping over Press liberties. Combating fake news can undermine critical journalism, which aids the electorates in the conformation of informed opinion. The report commissioned by UNESCO portends how free press will fall victim to the laws enunciated to curb the rampage spread of fake news. The goal of the authorities is to force media to take a subservient role in democracy by sub serving the Government.

In order to silence the critical media outlets, either the Journalists are being expelled, murdered, framed, assaulted, harassed, imprisoned and are even abducted or the media outlets are shut down and social media sites are blocked. In the specimen, framing charges against Maria Ressa, Uon Chinn and Siddharth Varadarajan, for tax evasion, espionage and reporting on a minister violating lockdown norms, respectively, blocking of Al Jazeera in Bangladesh, bombing the home of Shillong Times Editor, Patrician Mukhim, killing of GauriLankesh, Shujaat Bukhari, Eduardo Dizon, imprisonment of Kishore Chandra Wangkhem and, Li Zehua being missing et all.

In the world’s most populous democracy, India, every attempt has been made to stifle public narratives and to refrain access to information from deadening station’s uplink to blocking news channels. Incumbent Indian government has solicited news executive to publish only ‘positive, optimistic and inspiring stories’ to foreshadow Governments efforts and, has also knocked the doors of SC to direct the media sector to publish only official records. The extent of deterioration of press freedom can be mapped by the murder of a crusading and intrepid Journalist, Gauri Lankesh, in 2017. Modi Government bristles at the accusations of corruption, economic recession, and human rights violations, exacerbation of hate or bias crimes and accretion in white collar crimes. The political acumen of Modi has led to hero-worship by curtailing critical journalism and espousing friendly outlets. The parable of anti- national element to every dissent is a threat to the democracy.  The commitment of current Indian regime to encourage a free and robust media sector and, stamping out Press Freedom by hindering it to inform the public, is oxymoronic. The government endeavors to improve the social cohesion by blemishing it, viz transforming a religiously diverse nation into Hindutva propounders. The mainstream media in India has become a voice of the mandatory and choose to form the narrative which suits the state and incumbent party.

The aristocratic countries, Russia and Hungary, are nailing more power by exploiting access to information in the veneer of battling the unprecedented pandemic. In Russia, if a person or media outlets disseminates fake information about corona virus, can be fined up to €23,000 and imprisonment up to 5 years, in the erstwhile, and a fine of €117,000 in the latter case. Serbia has centralized all the information related to COVID-19 crisis. Other European nations with exiguous media freedom, Romania and Bulgaria, are introducing emergency decrees by enacting and amending laws to control public narratives, to report or shut down the websites spreading fake news sans the right to appeal, to ban publishing or broadcast of any personal opinion, to extend the time limit to answer Freedom of Information requests and, to penalize the spread of fake news.

The modus operandi of the elected leaders in recourse with the fundamental right of access to information has opened a Pandora box. Democracy is built on the Citizen’s access to information and the use of the information to make democracy participative in nature.  The virus has sparked the debate on not only on the future of globalization but also on the democracy, rights of the people, nature of the state and the most significantly the morrow of the nature of  relationship between the State and its citizens. The tamed Citizen, the surveilling state, and deprived masses are redefining the global democracy and posing the question of its existence.  The changing face of information and increasing information warfare, and the elected authoritarian leaders will decide the integrity and resilient nature of Constitutional democracies. 

*Rajesh Ranjanis2nd year law student at NLU Jodhpur and Founding editor at Socio -legal -literary.

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