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Opinio Juris: The Missing Link in Trump’s strike on Syria

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]n 7th April, the United States announced the firing of 59 tomahawk missiles each armed with 1000 pounds of explosives at the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The firing which was the first direct attack by the Trump administration against the Assad regime was targeted at Syrian radar equipments, jets, bunkers, fuel sites and other military equipment at the airfield.

According to Syrian officials at least seven people were killed and nine were injured in the attack. The purpose of the use of force according to the United States was as follows:

  1. To deter Syria from using chemical weapons against civilians in the ongoing Civil War in the aftermath of the Khan Sheikoun chemical bombing in the rebel held Idlib province that killed around 80 people including 20 women and 30 children.
  2. To provide an appropriate response in the wake of the ‘international community’ failing to act against Syria.

Syria acknowledged the armed attack on its territory while vehemently denying the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikoun in North Western Syria. Syria was joined by Russia which claimed that the use of chemical weapons cannot be attributed to the Syrian government. A week since the attack, the official position of the two counties remains unchanged. Interestingly, the attacks took place while the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was in the midst of its fact finding mission regarding the alleged State sponsored chemical attack and was yet to reach an objective determination regarding the veracity of the allegations against Syria. A former CIA official Philip Giraldi questioned the official line of Syria employing chemical weapons as a ‘sham’. Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard also made a pointed reference to the same. Irrespective of who is involved in the Khan Sheikoun chemical attacks, the US use of force against the Syrian government requires deeper analysis.

While it has been argued that Trump’s strike in Syria, irrespective of its legality has created a new norm in international law since it is evidence of a new State Practice it is argued that it is not the case as it is doubtful whether the United States as a country had the sufficient opinio juris necessary to trigger the emergence of new norm.

Customary International Law (CIL) and the Use of Force

The prohibition on the use of force is a well accepted principle in international law. Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter codifies this principle in no uncertain terms. Use of force is permitted only with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council unless it is for the purposes of self-defence within the purposes of Article 51 of the Charter. Article VI Clause 2 of the US Constitution, more famously known as the ‘Supremacy Clause’ stipulates that all treaties made under the authority of the Constitution are part of the Supreme law of the land. Self defence as a ground for the use of force can be pressed into operation only when a State has faced an armed attack or risks an imminent threat of an armed attack. There is near unanimity that the Trump’s administration’s use of force did not fall in this category despite some initial half- hearted attempts to classify the use of force under this head (on the ground that Syria’s use of chemical weapons threatens American interests in the Middle East). The final position of the administration was one of deterrence and response to a humanitarian crisis in the wake of the unprecedented use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

This compels one to examine whether a new norm pertaining to the unilateral use of force (without necessarily involving the UNSC) for the purposes of deterring a party from violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or reprisal against a State Party which has already violated the Convention (by the alleged use of Chemical weapons against its citizens) has emerged in CIL in the wake of Trump’s strike against Syria.

For a customary norm to emerge in CIL, it is essential that two principal criteria should be satisfied for the same: Firstly, there should be evidence of consistent state practice (which is an objective condition) and secondly, there should be evidence of a belief in the necessity and legality of the action (or omission) concerned. This condition is subjective in nature and is referred to as Opinio Juris sive necessitatis or simply opinio juris.

The latter is to be determined from the conduct of the State and its belief in the legality of its actions. In other words, a state must take recourse to a particular course of action accepting it as law guided by a conviction in the legal and necessary requirement of such action.

While State Practice is comparatively easy to establish, it’s not the case with opinio juris. Opinio juris may in cases be intrinsically bound with State Practice but is widely regarded as an independent second requirement for the emergence of a new customary norm. Past conduct amidst internal debates and controversies surrounding a course of action can be used as a determinant of the necessary opinio juris for a particular conduct.

United States and use of Force

The factual veracity of the chemical attacks alleged against the Syrian government assume significance in this context. Given the admissions by former Secretary of State Colin Powell of being mislead by rogue elements in the CIA with respect to his February 2003 UN Speech regarding Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and more recently claims by the Trump campaign that CIA’s assessment of Russia breaking into the mails of the Democratic party being incorrect one can draw a safe conclusion that the intelligence gathering framework of the country is not above suspicion. Since the US invasion of Iraq was based on faulty intelligence, a decision to use force in Syria should have been based on independent impartial international evidence. Trump’s refusal to wait till the OPCW investigation into the veracity of the claims points fingers to the administrations indifference to objective fact finding. This assumes significance since the Assad government continues to deny (rightly or otherwise) the use of chemical weapons. Russia’s unconditional support in this regard bolsters Syria’s claim. Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations Sacha Llorenti Soliz brought this fact to the knowledge of the UN Security Council on the day the US attacks took place. The Powell fiasco aided by a murky intelligence apparatus colour the evidentiary framework for the use of force, especially so when use of force is unilateral. Unilateral use of force in the Jus ad bellum framework requires a greater burden of proof on one exercising such a claim which was not discharged in this case.

Significantly enough, this is not the first instance of chemical warfare by the Syrian government. In August 2013, a Sarin gas attack was launched by the Assad government in Ghouta resulting in the deaths of around 1400 people. While the latest chemical attack took less than 100 lives, the previous attack which had many more causalities did not provoke a military response from the US. In fact, attempts to secure the permission of the Congress failed to evoke a positive response compelling the Obama administration to abandon the idea. Instead, the administration found common cause with Putin in goading Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and a deal under which the latter would be required to dismantle its arsenals of chemical weapons. Interestingly, the Obama negotiated deal required UNSC sanction before Syria is held accountable for any violation. This was the outcome of a belief that treaty violations should necessarily require independent resolution at the hands of the UN without resorting to the unilateral use of force.

While it could be argued, that the Khan Sheikoun incident is the first major violation of the CWC by Syria, the refusal of the Congress and the Obama administration to use force in Syria in August 2013 is evidence of a belief that armed response is not necessarily the appropriate response to a humanitarian crisis involving the use of suspect means of warfare. This obviates the contention that there exists a common unanimous line of reasoning in the various branches of the US government as regards the country’s approach to Jus in bello violations.

While Trumps strike had no backing from the Congress the latter being formally informed of the bombing two days after the eventuality, subsequent voices from the Congress approved the strike. Senior members of the Congress including the likes of Nancy Pelosi were unequivocal in their assertion that any future escalation of the conflict would require authorization of the legislative body. This settles the contention that “one off” strikes by the President create no acceptable precedent regarding use of force and Congress remains the final arbiter in the use of force. This is consistent with Article1 Section 8 Clause 11 of the US Constitution which grants “War Powers” exclusively to the Congress. Even if the President is authorized to undertake limited “one off” strikes, they should be undertaken under appropriate Congressional authorization. Strangely enough, most instances of Presidential use of force by Presidents Bush and Obama (except Libya) were justified under a 2001 Congressional authorization which permitted military use against those who plotted 9/11. Since the 2001 resolution pertained to Al Qaeda, it cannot aid the Trump administration in Syria given the reality that the Al-Nusra Front (the Syrian affiliate of the Al Qaeda) is engaged in efforts to topple Assad. Conflicts between the Congress and the President over the War Powers Resolution are not unknown with President Nixon staunchly opposing attempts by the Congress to legislate on the issue in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Attempts by the Attorney General’s office to carve out a “national interest” exception to the use of force (and readily employed by Obama in Libya) and used earlier in Bosnia and Haiti were premised on the logic that the credibility of the UN and the UNSC would be jeopardized if US does not resort to the use of force. In addition, geographical proximity to the USA was a ground for US “national interest” deployment in Haiti.

The “national interest” logic was employed by the Trump administration in the Syria bombing without any explanation as to how they correspond to US State practice in Bosnia, Libya or Haiti to ascertain the development of the necessary opinio juris for the creation of a new norm. Neither is the United Nations protected or UNSC resolutions honoured by US force of force against Syria. On the contrary, it is reasonable to conclude that the unilateral US air strikes have further eroded the credibility of the UNSC and the possibility of a Chapter VII resolution pursuant to an objective determination by the OPCW. The argument advanced by the Trump administration that American interests in the Middle East would be jeopardized if Assad resorts to the use of chemical weapons is a convenient ruse given the fact that Assad seems to have no broader interest other than securing the control of his beleaguered country from the clutches of non state actors who control large swathes of the Syrian landmass.

Scholars have argued that US use of force without UNSC approval had a precedent in the Yugoslav bombings carried out during the Clinton Presidency. However, US took care to ensure that the bombings were a ‘sui generis’ case involving a broader coalition of 19 nations. This implied that the precedent would have a limited ambit. NATO unilateralism was criticized by the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. Additionally, there was no fixed pattern for humanitarian intervention conducted by the Clinton administration in general as evidenced from Rwanda’s case where 800000 Rwandans Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a brutal genocide. US was unable to agree on a common framework to the use of force in the African country which cast aspersions on its subsequent eagerness to enter the Balkan conflict.

While attempting to justify humanitarianism in the attack against Syria, Trump referred to the plight of “beautiful babies” losing their lives in the protracted conflict especially so in the wake of the Chemical attack. However, the same administration was the brain behind an executive order that prevented the entry of citizens of seven Muslim majority nations including Syria from entering the United States. Here again there is no consistently displayed by the administration towards Syrian victims of the Civil war displaying the absence of opinio juris in creating a uniform norm of humanitarian conduct.

Tracing the history of US use of force one can observe that there exists no consistent pattern that could prove necessary opinio juris necessary for the creation of a new norm. While State practice pertaining to the use of force has existed, the same has been guided by policy considerations based on political expediency lacking uniformity of approach or consistency of objectives. A conviction in the legality and necessity of certain actions though claimed is negated by diverse situational geo-political considerations regarding the use of force. In line with the ICJ ruling in the North Sea Continental Shelf Case, wherein it was held that frequent and habitual performance of an act is in itself not sufficient to establish the creation of a norm unless there existed a belief in the legal necessity of such conduct; a legal conviction on the use of force for a treaty violation like the CRC is not established by Trump’s unilateral bombing of Syria in light of domestic and international norms of use of force.

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70 Years On: UN Declaration on Human Rights from the lens of Victimology

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Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Authors: Srimal Fernando and Vipin Vijay Nair*

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations (GAUN) 70 years ago, nonetheless, is more relevant to the future and today’s society.  Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in this landmark declaration requires major attention. However, these defining characteristics of the UDHR constitute not only its strength, but also its weaknesses.  This important milestone in the UN history is a testament to the commitment of the UN to global rules and values. On this important occasion of the 70th anniversary of UDHR her press statement on 9th December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “the document has gone from being an “aspirational treatise” to a set of standards that has “permeated virtually every area of international law”.

The most meaningful words of   UN High Commissioner on the notion of human rights resonates in today’s discourse. In the recent past conflicts, migration related issues, racial  polarization  and  inequalities   have  played   a large  role   in breakdown of societies.  Given the uncertainties, the numbers of people victimized due to hate crimes are unquestionably high. The distrust of reason is perhaps one of the most important traits of such issues. In fact, one could argue that victimology, as a subject doesn’t immediately spring to the mind over these issues or as a problem-solving method. There is no doubt of Victimology as a branch of criminal justice studies has been responsible for the expanding knowledge focusing on the victims of crimes. Perhaps in order to understand the dynamics of victimization, Victimologists offers a more realistic picture about   Victimology as a domain of social science. Hence the introduction of victimology   was major step forward in strengthening the fundamental principals of the Universal Declaration.

Looking at some characteristics of victimology narratives within the judicial proceedings requires alternative   behavioral and forensic science methods to investigate the causes, is a part of a larger study of the victimology specialty. Therefore, the element Forensic victimology, a sub-division of victimology reinforces and is closely linked to criminal justice studies.  In this context Forensic victimology analyses victim’s lifestyle and circumstances, the events leading up to their injury, and looks into the precise nature of any harm or loss that he or she had suffered.

While some nations looked for new laws to prohibit hate crime against individuals or groups, others sought the answers in solving this pertaining issuing relating to victimology using home grown methods. Various intervention strategies have been implemented in the recent past. There are various laws, declaration, codified rules and regulation that prevent individual under the international law, but these are working towards penalizing the wrong-doer and not focusing on the overall aspect and perspective of the crime. In the global context, laws that prohibit any type of hate crime against an individual or groups were partially fruitful.  Very few countries in European Union, North and South America have focused on implementing laws against hate crime.   However, 45 states in America expanded   this law and was major step forward.  Unquestionably, the most renowned organizations in the world such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Criminal Court (ICC), The World Society of Victimology (WSV) holding consultative status with UN and Council of Europe, International Criminal Justice Institutes and other   related agencies have been playing a realistic role intervening in furthering of victimology subject. International consensus is growing on human rights and freedom’s discourses that is designed to look beyond the victim stereotype and improves the policies relating to the prevention of crimes as well as to look into the victim themselves.

*Vipin Vijay Nair is Doctoral Research Scholar at Jindal Institute of Behavioral Sciences (JIBS) and a Research Fellow at Jindal Global Law School (JGLS)

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US Migrant Crisis and the Global Human Rights Protection Standards

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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Migrants and asylum seekers from Central America have been marching towards the US for protection and shelter. But US government has deployed around 6000 soldiers to prevent them from entering into the US. These migrant and asylum seekers convoys have been dubbed as “a foreign invasion” by the incumbent US President that needs to be confronted by the US army. President Trump hard-headedly argued that “immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic” that prompted the US army officials of firing tear gas shells at migrants’ convoys. It is nothing but the portrayal of an invasion by the Central American migrants and asylum seekers into the US. Such a US posturing on international migration is a manifestation of the US tradition of hypocrisy and its deep-seated aversion towards the migrants that violates global human Rights protection standards (GHRPS). Thus, the across-the-board new migration strategy of the US is based on the idea of ultra-restrictionism that deprives the immigrants from public benefits, and recently President Trump has entirely abolished the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme along with the abrogation of the temporary status protection programmes. These measures have adversely impacted the GHRPS required for the 2 million regular migrants in the US which spawned the emergence of a well-founded fear of persecution, far-right nationalism, and socio-cultural schism.

New Migration Strategy

The US restrictive measures have attracted international media attention and the US is hell-bent to send a message to the international community that it would not be privy to the non-binding standard for a safe, orderly and regular migration known as the UN Global Compact on Migration (GCM) arrangement scheduled to be agreed in December 2018 and US is alone capable to take its decisions on immigration issues under America First Policy (AFP).Therefore, the GHRPS for migrants and asylum seekers are apparently immaterial in the US immigration policy objectives. Trump administration under AFP discourse envisions restrictionism, deterrence, and pre-emption against GHRPS while denying public benefits to immigrants at par US citizens. Unfortunately, strong and inclusive migration control strategy has been devised and is being implemented to restrict the rights of those migrants and immigrants who are already there in the US. For example; Trump administration has been attempting to temper the 2020 US census that is bound to influence the political scene for the advantage of Republicans in the years ahead.

However, ex-President Barack Obama also resorted to the deployment of US armed forces on the US-Mexico international border to curb migration that resulted in some cases of family-separations but at a low rate if it is measured against the present Trump administration. The point of distinction between the Obama and Trump administrations is that the former recognized the contribution of migrants to the US’s growth; however, this understanding has steadily acquired a negative narrative under the later administration. President Trump has been demanding $5 billion to construct a wall along the US-Mexico international border otherwise intimidating shutting down the US government. However, Trump administration apparently does not leave any stone unturned in case of violently pushing back migrants and asylum seekers. Trump administration has inaugurated its immigration policy with a Travel Ban from seven Muslim countries and now it has been stretched to Latin American countries against all norms of GHRPS and international law.

Global Human Rights Protection Standards

The incumbent US administration is more interested in denying migrants and asylum seekers the access to benefits under the US national laws and global human rights protection standards. The latest Trump’s proclamation is to contain the new arrivals from Mexico and its Southern nation-states which restrict the right to seek asylum in the US beyond the port of entry. Further, impugned presidential proclamation defers well-established US asylum legislation that contravenes due process of law, the rule of law and international treaty law recognized and sanctified under the Constitution of United States of America. However, this presidential proclamation or asylum ban has, for the time being, been stopped by the San Francisco Federal Court under a restraining order.

In spite of this, the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 states that any “alien or foreigner who is physically or personally present in the US or who comes in the US (whether or not at an officially designated port of entry, irrespective of such alien or foreigner’s status, may apply for asylum.” However, under Section 212 (f) the US President is empowered to enforce immigration restrictions by issuing a proclamation. Further, the US President may if feels that “the entry of any alien or foreigner or any class of foreigners or aliens into the US would be detrimental to the American interests suspend the entry of all foreigners or aliens or any class of aliens or foreigners as non immigrants or immigrants, or impose on the entry of foreigners or aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” Precisely, President Trump invoked this provision of law to clamp these insensitive and punitive restrictions. This presidential decree has aggravated the Trump’s AFP to new levels of castigation. Groups and individuals seeking asylum and entering the US while avoiding official ports of entry were slapped with criminal cases that got them separated from their families. Such irregular entries were criminalized by the US border authorities in violation of “the right not to be penalized for irregularly entering into the territory of High Contracting State” under Article 31 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (UNCSR) with its 1967 Additional Protocol that has been acceded to by the US.

Having hit with such transgressions, the criminal charges leveled against asylum seekers did not affect their asylum claims, and they were duly entitled to have their asylum claims heard. However, this scenario is no more there as new reports indicate that a single-digit number of asylum applications are disposed of daily at the designated entry ports. Therefore, such a situation has led to inordinate delays in processing the applications of asylum seekers at the border that is a violation of Section 1 of Amendment XIV of the Constitution of United States of America that codifies the core values of the people of the USA. But many persons have been denied access and abducted, raped and thrashed to the hilt. However, Article 33 (1) of the UNCSR contains the principle of non-refoulement stemming from the customary international law that works as “a safety valve” which obligates the nation-states to protect a refugee, migrants, stateless and asylum seekers who is fleeing from persecution, risk or danger to life in his or her country of origin or homeland. Few scholars contest the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement extra-territorially; however, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has already recognized the extra-territorial application of the non-refoulement principle, and the denial of entry into the US is a violation of the UNCSR.

Moreover, there is another principle of international law where under collective or mass expulsion of the refugees, migrants or asylum seekers is prohibited and obligates the nation-states to examine objectively and cumulatively every expulsion action of each individual and group of persons. The “hot return” policy of the US clearly violates this obligation under GHRPS. Thus, this practice primarily rescinds the right of the huge majority of migrants and asylum seekers to seek for asylum. Therefore, it also circumvents the objects and purposes of the UNCSR.

The Hot Return Policy

The hot return policy stems from the US Department of Justice regulation of 1953 that entails the “100 Air Mile Zone” rule; however, that negates the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution under which the right and protection against arbitrary and random searches have been provided within this zone. But Border Patrol officials have been empowered to operate the immigration checkpoints in this vast zone with extra-constitutional powers. Under the “zero tolerance policy” Department of Homeland Security wields enormous powers and conducts speedy ejections of undocumented migrants within this area. The fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to counsel or the right to a hearing before a judicial immigration authority and the right against expulsions are not available in the situation of “hot returns.” The new regulation has precisely been founded upon this mechanism and whosoever arrives at the designated checkpoints will be pushed back devoid of any due process of law. Anti-migration-driven steps like the family separation, ankle-monitors for asylum seekers and detention of asylum seekers during the process of determination of their asylum claims. Therefore, it has become a double-edged weapon as when asylum seekers try to apply at authoritative ports of entry they are prevented from doing so and when some migrants and asylum seekers do not follow the law and try to manage surreptitiously asylum benefits they are also prevented from claiming asylum within the US. In fact, the impugned policy violates the UNCSR, customary international law and the provisions of general international law. Therefore, civil society institutions like the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union filed cases in the US courts against such illegal actions of the Trump administration.

The Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers

There is a plan to have secret measures to restrict the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the US against all protection standards of the so-called civilized world. The rights of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers are in active violation in the US who espouses the cause of human rights, the rule of law, democracy and diversity worldwide. For example; in the Matter of A-R-C-G- et al. decided on August 26, 2014 at the US Department of Justice by the Executive Office for Immigration Review where the Board of Immigration observed that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave or run away from their relationship” which can constitute a cognizable “membership of particular social group” that establishes the basis of the right to seek asylum or withholding of removal under Sections 208(a) and 241(b)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 and which is also a prerequisite for meeting the criterion of refugee definition under Article 1 of the UNCSR. However, law officers under the Trump administration adamant to subvert the well-established legal standards that provide respite and reprieve in the cases of domestic violence.

There is a perennial cycle of legal measures that are bound to belittle existing human rights protection standards like latest Trump administration’s endeavour to reverse the Flores v. Reno popularly known as Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) in September 2018. The reversal of FSA will be the most inhuman act of the present US administration as separating and snatching children from their parents cannot be justified under any circumstance whatsoever.  FSA determines the limits on the duration and conditions under which children could be incarcerated in immigration detention, and it also regulatesthe detention, treatment, and release of detained minors by the immigration authorities. However, Trump Administration seeks to terminate the FSA’s legal defences for children, including the provision that children must be shifted to a non-secure, licensed facility within three to five days of detention, which has been construed to allow for an extension of up to 20 days in times of “emergency” or “influx.” The proposed regulations include some policies which, if implemented, would allow the government to incarcerate more families for even longer periods. Primarily, FSA’s goal was to release families and minor children from immigration custody quickly. Therefore, if FSA is reversed now, it would violate GHRPS and due process of law.

Way Forward

The US is the first country in the world that has been recognized as a country of migrants, enriched by the migrants and celebrates multiculturalism as an inalienable part of its existence since time immemorial. However, US policies based on the doctrine of American interests worldwide has done a massive disservice to the lives of the people worldwide.  The US supports and protects many national governments who serve its interests, US exploits and expropriates the natural resources of many countries and its prescriptive approach in formulating economic policies, forced regime change, subjugation of international organizations and selective discharge of international obligations have also contributed in displacing people from their roots. Therefore, it has to share the responsibility of hosting migrants and asylum seekers, particularly from its vicinity. In fact, many anti-migrants measures violate US municipal law, the US’s international treaty obligations as well as general international law. The US has to abdicate its restrictionism based on hate, threats, and xenophobia in consonance with its historical traditions of liberal democracy, diversity, and multiculturalism.

In this context, all anti-migrants restrictions and sanctions must be withdrawn while respecting GHRPS and international law obligations.As pictures circulate worldwide of US firing of tear gas enveloping migrants, asylum seekers and their children on US-Mexican border and terrified faces of children who are being snatched from their parents by the US Border Patrol agents, a UN Global Compact on Orderly and Safe Migration is likely to win near-universal approval at the inter-governmental conference scheduled to be held in Marrakesh, Moroccoon December 10-11, 2018 expected to be the final step before the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is formally adopted by the UN General Assembly. It has been a long-drawn journey to achieve such an ambitious plan for regulating and governing international migration by the international community. However, it would not be a legally binding treaty even then, unfortunately, US has already shunned this global initiative against the mandate of its own constitution.

The Constitution of the United States of America is a sacred covenant achieved by an immeasurable amount of human investment that has established an equal society in America. But, unfortunately, these restrictions on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers have weakened the US constitutional guarantees and liberties under the current administration. The emergence of the far-right political discourse that is being well-sponsored and patronized under the Trump administration must be countered by strengthening the liberal democratic political discourse, and same must also be reflected in the institutional governance frameworks of the United States of America.

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Science Policy Holds Promise in the South China Sea

James Borton

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Scientific cooperation may succeed in de-escalating the current tensions in the tumultuous area of the South China Sea. This in spite of White House efforts to deny well-established climate change reports, and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which has some observers questioning the wisdom of laying down a science-led peace-building plan in the contested South China Sea disputes.

Chinese oceanographers and their marine scientists are now raising a science flag to neighboring claimant nations in the region. At an increasing number of multilateral science conferences, Chinese scientists quietly admit that there are shared regional environmental security issues including acidification, biodiversity loss, coral reef destruction and fishery collapse. While in Washington, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy expresses skepticism about China’s rapid expansion of their oceanographic research expansions, it raises more opportunities rather than hegemonic problems.

Science may prove to be the crucible for bringing about a new level of cooperation rather than competition, not only among the claimant nations in the region, but also between Washington and Beijing.

Last year President Trump’s offer to Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang to mediate the complex and challenging disputes over access to fish stocks, conservation of biodiversity and sovereignty claims caught many observers by surprise, it should not have.

The stakes are getting higher in the turbulent South China Sea, not only because of Beijing’s militarization of reclaimed islands but also the prospects of a fisheries collapse. This should weigh heavily on all claimant nations and especially the United States. Challenges around food security and renewable fish resources are fast becoming a hardscrabble reality for more than fishermen. In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that it could be a scary future, indeed, with as many as 30-50 percent of all species possibly headed toward extinction by mid-century.

What’s clear is that the ocean’s resources are continued to be exploited at a record pace and a few of China’s fleet of almost 50 research vessels have now set their sights on American waters by navigating through the Federated States of Micronesia, near the U.S. territory of Guam.

In a recently published National Interest article, “Chinese Scientists Want to Conduct Research in U.S. Waters- Should Washington Let Them,” authors Peter Dutton and Ryan Martinson, argue that China is a strategic competitor in its ocean agenda. They claim, that “Beijing primarily invests in out-of-area oceanographic research in order to position China to better compete with other countries for security, resources, markets and political influence.”

While it’s true that these research vessels are a part of China’s National Fleet, the scientific oversight is to insure State Oceanic Administration’s management of oceanographic activities. Of course, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Seventh Fleet recognize that any Chinese research vessels must be monitored but there’s no issue with the PRC conducting freedom of navigation around Guam as long as it’s outside the limits of Guam, recognized by the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It’s not too late for the U.S. to take the scientific high ground and renew the legacy of science diplomacy. After all, science initiatives are more widely accepted as efforts to solve global issues requiring contributions from all parties even if they have been dealt a bad hand elsewhere. On November 3, the White House signed off on a report attributing climate change and global warming to humanity. The report is in direct contradiction to the president’s action pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord on climate change earlier this year.

Enter science diplomacy, defined as the role of science being used to inform foreign policy decisions, promoting international scientific collaborations, and establishing scientific cooperation to ease tensions between nations. It’s true that many policymakers and scientists do not speak the same language; however, there’s increasing evidence that points the compass towards the link between international science cooperation and international relations.

During the Cold War, scientific cooperation was used to build bridges of cooperation and trust, and it’s now time that the South China Sea becomes a sea that binds rather than divides. The defense skeptics in Washington certainly are correct in their observations that China’s distant fleets directly serves state interests. However, maritime research can be cooperatively shared and perhaps, the first step in China inviting fellow marine scientists and maybe even an embedded journalist or two aboard one of their marine research vessels.

There are strong ties among scientists across Southeast Asia and China, due in part to a series of international scientific projects, conferences and training workshops associated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s South China Sea Fisheries Development and Coordination program.

Marine scientists in the Philippines and Vietnam are reviving conversations about the Joint Oceanographic Marine Scientific Research Expeditions (JOMSRE) last conducted in 2005 and organized between the Philippine Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center and the Vietnamese Institute of Oceanography.

These measures are essential in the face of rampant overfishing and a looming coral reef apocalypse occurring across the South China Sea, in part because of the conflicting territorial claims have made ecological analyses and management actions difficult.

Michael Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, believes the U.S. could dramatically improve international relations through marine science partnerships, and he understands the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) contains specific articles that apply to marine science and technology.

“A renewal of JOMSRE would be quite positive, although the changing political dynamics related to the Spratlys and other islands and reefs in the region over the last several years will likely create a bit more challenging environment for an international research survey,” Mr. Crosby said in an email.

Modern history offers excellent examples of how science supported diplomacy. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy invited Japan’s Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda to support the US-Japan Committee on Science Cooperation. In Science Diplomacy New Day or False Dawn, the editors Lloyd S. Davis and Robert Patman, offer compelling arguments for the adoption of science in diplomacy. This includes their study of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) with a lens on the success achieved among 60 countries, who were engaged in Antarctic cooperative research on the area’s ice sheets, atmospheric conditions and oceanographic properties.

Dr. Paul Arthur Berkman, a professor of practice in Science Diplomacy at Tufts University, reaffirms the lessons the Antarctica and extols science as a tool of diplomacy that builds bridges among nations and fosters stability in regions. Antarctica is the one place that arguably is the archetype for what can be accomplished by science diplomacy.

Under the Antarctic Treaty, no country actually owns all or part of Antarctica, and no country can exploit the resources of the continent while the Treaty is in effect. It is a classic example of international cooperation.

Also, it’s worth noting the success of the Red Sea Marine Peace Cooperative Research, Monitoring and Resource Management Program (RSMPP) where Israel and Jordan signed off on an ecosystem monitoring agreement and shared science data collection in the Gulf of Aqaba in 2003. RSMPP offers another model for improving international relations and building capacity through marine science cooperation in the South China Sea. These two opposing countries chose to promote the long-term sustainable use and conservation of their shared marine resources.

Professor John McManus, a marine biologist at the University of Miami, has researched the contested Spratly Islands for more than a quarter of a century. He has called repeatedly for the development of an international peace park and remains hopeful that other regional marine scientists and ecologists will support a collaborative science-driven initiative.

He says, “Territorial disputes have led to the establishment of environmentally destructive, socially and economically costly military outposts on so many islands. Given the rapid proliferation of international peace parks, it is time to take the difficult steps towards the establishment of a Spratlys Peace Park.”

Although the U.S. is not a signatory to UNCLOS, Washington can recommend that sovereignty claims be set aside in treaties implementing freezes on claims and claim-supportive activities, as has been done in the Antarctic. These and other natural resource management tools could be used far more effectively to secure fisheries and biodiversity, and also promote sustainable tourism.

Now that the mid-term election results are in, the White House may find this collaborative brand of science diplomacy works well in Asia.

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