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International Law

Forced Population Transfers, Mass Expulsions, and Migration: The Law and its Claw

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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Human inception with autochthonic affinities coated in political proclivities harbingered and vouched for exclusivity of ethnicity, race,and religion in every part of the world. But civilizations have been interacting, intermingling andintermixingever since the people have accomplished the art of movements from one place to another by utilizing and developing the transport technologies of all kinds. However, in the contemporary circumstances, humanity is at war per se that pandered to a catena of causes of population movements across the human spectrum. Population transfers, expulsions, and forced migrations that take place in inconsistent conditions and a wide diversity of circumstances at the moment are coordinatedby a convoluted hodge-podge of legal labyrinth comprising the IHRL—International Human Rights Law, IRL— International Refugee Law, IHL—International Humanitarian Law, and IDL—International Development Law.The population transfer is allowed only in rare and restricted circumstances, with the standards of lawful transfer determined by explicit or implicit prohibitions contemplated predominantly in IHRL and IHL.

The Draft Population Transfer Declaration (PTD) defines illegal Population Transfer and the Implantation of Settlers, 1997 annexed to the Final Report of Special Rapporteur Al-Khasawneh, which was acceptedby the UNCHR (UN Commission on Human Rights) and ECOSOC in 1998. The PTDwas drafted by the UNCHR’s Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which was renamed as Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in 1999 until its functions and responsibilities were assumed in 2006 by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Article 3 of the PTD defines “unlawful population transfer” as “a policy or practice having the goal or result of transferring the people into or out of a territory either within or across an international boundary or within into or out of an occupied territorywithout the informed and free consent of such transferred population and any obtaining population.”The focus of this entry is, first, in those circumstances in which expulsions and transfers may be lawful; and, second, upon the preconditions, limitations, and other requirements, including most notably the right to compensation which needs to be satisfied to render such transfers lawful. However, the forced population transfers have been ruminated upon separately.

The Genesis of the Legal Norms

History is replete with instances of population transfer and its devastating effects on communities and individuals. There is no shortage of examples: population transfer and slavery; dispossession of indigenous peoples; population transfers as a result of treaties. Forthree centuries, before the slave trade was legally prohibited in Britain in 1807,  and afterwards, at the international level,by the General Act of the Brussels Conference Relating to the African Slave Trade-1890, the Slavery Convention-1926 and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practice Similar to Slavery-1956, was banned. The transatlantic slave traders enslaved and transported at least 12 million Africans to the Americas. The American Colonization Society, established in 1816, organized the transportation of free black Americans and manumittedand emancipated the slaves to Liberia, a policy which generated significant debate and which had been disputedat the time by many African-Americans. While deportation for slave labourwas rightly condemned as a war crime at Nuremberg, the failure of the Tokyo Tribunal to condemn the transfer of “Comfort Women” into sexual slavery during World War-II has been justly castigated.It has been highlighted in the Gender-Based Crimes judgment handed down by the non-governmental organization calledWomen’s International War Crimes Tribunal that conducted the Trial of Japan’s Military establishment’s Sexual Slavery in 2001.

Indigenous people have been subject to widespread population transfers. Colonialism and Colonization led to the large-scale dispossession of indigenous peoples. Beginning with the Indian Removal Act, 1830[28 May 1830] whereunder an Exchange of Lands instead of the Indians Residing in any of the States, or Territories, and for Their Removal from the West of the Mississippi Riverwas provided.Consequently, series of statutes in the United States of America provided for the forcible removal of an estimated 100,000 Native Americans to reservations to make way for the settlers. Segregationist practices and policies in South Africa saw the creation of reserves for Africans and eventually led a system of apartheid based on Racial and Religious Discrimination popularly also known as South African Bantustan Policy to the establishment of the much-criticized homelands. Article-II (d) of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, 1973 prohibits, among other things, the creation of separate reserves on racial grounds. However, indigenous people continue to suffer population transfers often as a result of development projects reported by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, 1996 of administrative and development relocations of Canadian aboriginal people.

The population transfers have also been provided for by treaty. Greece and Bulgaria agreed to the consensual exchange of minorities in the 1919 Convention Respecting Reciprocal Emigration. The Convention relating to the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations-1923whereunder compulsory transfer of 1.5 million ethnic Greek population of Turkish nationality, and 400,000 ethnic Turks of Greek citizenshipwas provided. The treaty provided for a commission of representatives from Greece, Turkey, and the Council of the League of Nations to supervise transfers and the payment of compensation. However, controversy ascended over its scope ratione personae.  When the treaty’s compensation provisions proved unworkable, they were replaced by lump sum agreements.

The Legality of Forced Population Transfers

The legality of forced or compulsory population transfer was robustly contested at the time both at and beyond the conference table. Extensive population transfers took place before, during, and after World War-II, including those resulting from some bilateral population transfer treaties between the Reich and, for example, Italy, the Baltics, and the Soviet Union. Typically these deals included an “option clause” although it has been disputedwhether, in practice, consent was freely given. It is more accurate to categorize these events as a forced population transfer, as millions of individuals were in fact forcibly expelled (whether from the German-occupied territory, or within the Soviet Union) in blatant and unprecedented violations of international law.

At the conclusion of World War II, compulsory population transfers continued on a massive scale in Europe by inter-State agreement. A few weeks after the Allies adopted the UN Charter, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the US agreed at the Potsdam Conference-1945 that transfer to Germany of the German population in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland “will have to be undertaken” as per the Article XIII of the Potsdam Protocol and should “be effected in an orderly and humane manner” although in practice it was neither. The legality of the Potsdam Protocol under international law, as well as the subsequent forced population transfer, was stronglycontested at that time.Particularly, Article 7 of the PTD provides that international agreement can not legalize population transfers which violate fundamental human rights norms. Post-World War-II population transfers were not limited to German minorities: the agreement between Hungary and Czechoslovakia to exchange 200,000 Magyars and 200,000 Slovaks in February 1946 represents just one of some bilateral population exchange agreements of the impugned period.

The Potsdam Protocol has been regardedas an attempt to validate expulsions already in progress, as much as an endeavour to regulate future population transfers. Similarly, the Agreement between India and Pakistan on Minorities designated as “New Delhi Accord”-1950 served more like a “formal recognition of a fait accompli of the population transfer of about ten million population of Hindus and Muslims between India and Pakistanin the wake of the partition of the Indian Sub-continent in 1947. As the Preliminary Report observes, while such transfers were in some degree consensual and aimed at avoiding inter-ethnic conflict, they involved “a tragic human rights trade-off.” During the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia, numerous resolutions by the UN Security Council (UNSC), including UNSC Resolution 826 (1993) and 859 (1993) called for the reversal of the effects of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia in its post-dissolution stage. However, some commentators criticized the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia, and Herzegovina popularly designated as Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in 1995, for affirming territorial changes brought about by ethnic cleansing.

With the entrenchment of IHRL in the second half of the 20th century, it is increasingly accepted that population transfers violate a series of human rights guarantees as identified in the judgments of Cyprus v. Turkey delivered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on May 10, 2001. The Cyprus v. Turkeywas decided by the European Commission of Human Rights on October 04, 1992.The Sub-Commission constituted forthe Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities,and its Special Rapporteur studied the population transfer from the early 1990s, and his Final Report was published in 1997. The Final Report had recommended the adoption of a Comprehensive International Instrument on Population Transfer and appended the Model Declaration on Population Transfer to apply in all situations, and to all persons, groups, and authorities under Articles 1 and 2wherein a number of its terms reflect the current customary international law.Moreover, the jurisprudence developed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has also significantly influenced the development of the law on forced population transfer.

The Current Legal Phantasmagoria

If the international legal policy has changed over time to restrict the legality of population transfer, history offers valuable lessons. Firstly, it regrettably demonstrates the recurrent use of population transfers in State and nation-building. Secondly, it shows the international community’s all-too-frequent de facto acceptance of population transfer or its effects in pursuit of its perception of how the interests of peace are best served. Thirdly, as instances of population transfer demonstrate, the enforcement of law poses considerable challenges. But it is also worth emphasizing the existence of significant new problems, including the question of climatic displacement identified in the UNHCR “Forced Displacement in the Context of Climate Change: Challenges for States under International Law.” Therefore, the Forced population transfers are, as the Preliminary Report concluded, prima facie unlawful because they violate core norms of IHRL and IHL. A vast pool of human rights instruments prohibit the mass expulsion of nationals and aliens, and the rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) not to be arbitrarily displaced is recognized in the authoritative soft law developed by the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on Internal Displacement adopted as UN ECOSOC “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement” in 1998.

As Article 3 of the PTD makes clear, the concept of population transfer encompasses settler infusion such as the implantation of Moroccan, Indonesian, and Chinese settlers into Western Sahara, East Timor, and Tibet respectively. By altering the demographic composition of host populations, settler infusions can jeopardize the exercise of the right to self-determination. In practice settler infusion and expulsion are often related, as is illustrated by the illegal expulsion under the government of late Saddam Hussein of ethnic minorities from oil-rich regions of northern Iraq, accompanied by the resettlement of Arabs in furtherance of a policy of “Arabization.” However, in certain assiduouslydefined circumstances, population transfers may be lawful. Article 3 of the PTD makes the legality of population transfer dependent on the informed consent of host and transferred populations. In areview of Special Rapporteur Al-Khasawneh’s “Progress Report” under Para 25 along with international jurisprudence and international conventions, concludes that this principle of consent has reached the status of a general principle of international law. The transfer is non-consensual where it is forcible, coerced, or induced.  As obtaining informed consent often presents considerable difficulty, the Progress Report rightly emphasizes the need for monitoring mechanisms to ensure officialapproval.

International Human Rights Law

Additionally, population transfers may be lawful in certain situations such as national emergency, public disorder, or environmental crises, but in each case only subject to the fulfillment of conditions for lawful derogation from non-derogable human rights in thestate of emergency. For example, while it follows from the protection of freedom of movement under Article 12 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-1966 (ICCPR), Article 13 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (UDHR), and Article 5 of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) that population transfer within a State or across an international border is prohibited, derogations from the right to freedom of movement, to the choice of residence, to leave, and to return are permitted. Such derogations are tightly circumscribed and limited to the public interest and compensation must be awarded as expounded by the “Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report of November 29, 1983,ona section of the Nicaraguan population of Miskito origin and their Human Rights conditions. Similarly, Article 4 of the PTD permits displacement only where either the safety of the transferred population or imperative military reasons demand. In such circumstances, displaced persons should be allowed to return immediately when the conditions rendering their displacement imperatively cease. Transfers must not interfere with minority and indigenous rights of the host population.  Where the purpose or means of population transfer violate norms of jus cogens (peremptorynorms of international law), it is, indeed, prohibited.

Forced Population Transfer & Indigenous Peoples

The Preliminary Report states that population transfer is the primary cause of land loss of the indigenous people as it constitutes a principal factor in the process of ethnocide as discussed at Para 101 of the Report. However, while Article16 (1) of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1989) states that indigenous peoples should not be removed from the lands they inhabit. This fundamental principle is subject to the exception and prerequisites detailed in Article16 (2) of ILO Convention No 169 as follows:Where the relocation of these peoples is considered to be necessary as an exceptional measure, therefore, such kind of relocation shall take place only with their free and informed consent. Where their consent cannot be obtained or ascertained, such relocation shall take place just following appropriate procedures or due process established by the national laws and regulationsincluding public inquiries where necessary, which provide the opportunity for valid representation of the peoples concerned.

If relocation occurs, indigenous peoples are entitled to be compensated for loss or injury as provided under Article 16 (5) of ILO Convention No 169 and they enjoy a right to return “wherever possible” once the reasons for relocation cease to apply [(Art. 16 (3) ILO Convention No 169)]. Where areturn is impossible, indigenous peoples should be provided with comparable alternative lands or, should they prefer, compensation (Art. 16 (4) ILO Convention No 169). These provisions concerning consent and compensation represent international custom (Progress Report Para. 27). Many indigenous groups have disassociated themselves from the convention, in part because of the overly permissive tenor of Article 16 of ILO Convention No 169 favours the State. The convention has also been criticized for failing to acknowledge the importance of the relationship of indigenous peoples to a particular place (Preliminary Report Para. 257). The non-binding Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 13 September 2007, addresses some of these criticisms. Having noted in its Preamble the concern for the historical injustices indigenous people have suffered, among other things through colonization and the dispossession of lands, Article 10 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples subjects relocation of indigenous people to their “free, prior and informed consent” in unqualified terms after “agreement on just and fair compensation” with an option to return where possible.“The Declaration on the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights” further provides that indigenous peoples have a right to redress and reparation for lands that have been taken or used in the past without their consent under Article 28. The Declarationobliges States to provide effective mechanisms to prevent and contain redress for forced population transfer under Article 8 (c) of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding Environment and Indigenous Peoples also.

Population Transfer and Development

Beyond the context of indigenous people’s rights, the legality of population transfers carried out to make way for development projects is not currently subject to specific regulation by international treaties on the progressive development of International Law. However, referring to sources such as the principle of self-determination enshrined in Article 1 of the ICCPR-1966.UN resolutions on the development and human rights and development and the environment, the Preliminary Report authoritatively argues that customary international law already governs these incidences of population transfer (at Paras 300–311). The Final Report concludes that the legality of such population transfers depends on them being non-discriminatory, in the public interest, that they do not deprive people of their means of subsistence, and are subject to the consent of the people to be transferred. Their consent must be procured after dialogue and negotiation with the population’s elected representatives on “terms of equality, fairness,and transparency” (Article 68, Final Report). The transferred people should be provided with monetary compensation as well as equivalent land, housing, occupation, and employment.

Since 1980 the World Bank has responded to international pressure by developing a policy on involuntary resettlement documented by the World Bank Group. Operational Directive 4.30 (1990) was replaced in 2001 by Operational Policy 4.12 on-Involuntary Resettlement, as revised in February 2011. Reports have documented great enforcement difficulties, however, and resettlement has faced popular resistance as recorded on pages 211–212. The transnational coalition against the Narmada river dams contributed to the World Bank withdrawing its funding in 1993. A cross-border campaign, together with a negative World Bank Inspection Panel Report, led the Bank to withdraw its support for the China Western Poverty Reduction Project, which would have involved the settler infusion of around 58,000 Chinese into Tibet.

Population Transfer in Armed Conflict

Apart from voluntary transfers during international armed conflicts, under Article 49 of the 4thGeneva Convention Relating to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War-1949 provides that during hostilities, temporary evacuation is permissible only where it is necessary for the “security of the population” or where “imperative military reasons do demand.”  Similar arguments are also advanced in situations of International Armed Conflicts and Military Necessity etc. Even then, temporary evacuation is subject to some conditions. Firstly, displacement is not permitted outside the territorial boundaries of the occupied State unless impossible to avoid “for material reasons” (Article 49, Geneva Convention-IV). Secondly, on the cessation of hostilities evacuees should be returned home. Thirdly, occupying powers are obliged to provide “to the greatest practicable extent” proper accommodation for those evacuated, and evacuations should be carried out “in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety,and nutrition.” Fourthly, family members should not be separated, and finally, protecting powers should be informed of all kinds of population transfers.

The transfer of acivilian population by an occupying power of its civilian population into occupied territory is also prohibited. However, there arefew disputes as to whether it constitutes a grave breach of the customary international law?In 2004, the ICJ held in the case of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Territory of Palestine and its Legal Consequences [2004] ICJ Rep. 136 Para 134 popularly called “Israeli Wall Advisory Opinion Case” that the construction of the wall and “its associated régime” violated the rights of the people of the Occupied Territory to freedom of movement, work, an adequate standard of living, education, and healthas well as the Jus Cogens right of self-determination.

In non-international armed conflicts, displacement is permitted only where it is required for the security of the transferees or imperative military necessity. In this case, Article 17 of the Additional Protocol-II, 1977 to Geneva Conventions-1949 requires that “all possible measures” must be taken to ensure the transferred population is “received under satisfactory conditions of shelter, safety, health, hygiene,and nutrition.” Otherwise, population transfers “for reasons relatingto the conflict” are forbidden. The Final Report calls for the parameters of the concept of “military necessity” to be further developed to prevent abuse advocated at Para. 39. However, the belligerents have “broad powers” to expel enemy nationals during an armed conflict as documented and titled under Civilians Claims: Eritrea’s Claims 15, 16, 23, 27–32 Para. 81 and further Paras 82 and 99; Civilians Claims: Ethiopia’s Claim 5 Para. 121. These powers are not, however, unlimited. Belligerents must ensure the application of humanitarian law,and humanitarian standards, including those contained in Articles 35 and 36 Geneva Convention IV enshrined in the Civilians Claims: Ethiopia’s Claim 5 Para. 122) but “Indiscriminate rounds-ups and expulsions based on ethnicity” are unlawful.

Remedies and Enforcement

Unlawful population transfer gives rise to State responsibility and individual criminal responsibility under Article 9 of the PTD where population transfers occur within the territorial boundaries of a single State, it may be difficult if not impossible to identify a State that is injured and, therefore, entitled to bring a claim under the traditional principles of State responsibility. However, third States may incur duties of non-recognition and non-assistance (the Construction of a Wall and itsLegal Consequences in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Case [Advisory Opinion, Para. 136]. From Britain’s naval interdiction of slave traders in the first part of the 19thcentury through to the use of force by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Yugoslavia wherein the right of humanitarian intervention to prevent population transfer has been contested in the case popularly known as Legality of the Use of Force Case (Yugoslavia v Spain, Provisional Measures Order).

The right to return is central to restitution in inter-regnum under Article 8 of the PTD. Evidence for its customary international law status can be drawn from some international instruments such as provisions in human rights instruments, e.g. Article 13 (2) of the UDHR, Article 5 of the ICERD, Article 12 (4) of the ICCPR, Article 22 (5) of the American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, and Article 12 (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981as well as UN Resolutions, Peace Agreements and Soft Law relating to IDPs (UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 1998). The Final Report considers that the State of origin is obliged to facilitate return (at Para. 60). The Dayton Peace Agreement made the return of refugees and displaced persons an “important objective of the settlement and resolution of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina”as enunciated in Annexure 7, Article 1 (1) of Dayton Peace Agreement. It provides for refugees and displaced people to return to their “homelands of origin,” leaving the choice of destination to the returnees, and for the return of their property and compensation.

The practice of return has proved problematic with multi-dimensional ramifications as the right has been insufficiently enforced is illustrated by repeated failures to implement UNGA Resolution 194 (III) (1948) concerning the return of Palestinian refugees, and to secure the return of refugees in Cyprus. Likewise, security concerns and delay in resolving property claims have proved formidable obstacles to implementing return provisions in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Moreover, the scope of the right to return, particularly the effect of the passage of time, is unclear. As the Final Report states, “peace is ultimately an act of compromise” as noted at Para 63.Thus, the ECtHR has observed that:

“It cannot be within this Court’s purview in interpreting and applying the provisions of the Convention to execute an unconditional obligation on a Government to get on on the forcible ejection and rehousing of possibly large numbers of people (men, women, and children) even with the aim of justifying the rights of victims of violations of the Convention” (Demopoulos v. Turkey, Para. 116).

Of significant legal contestation is the effect of the Oslo Accords, which do not refer to UNGA Resolution 194 (III) on the right to return of Palestinian refugees. In 2003, the Danish Supreme Court refused to grant a right of return to the Thule tribe who were relocated in 1953 to facilitate the establishment of a US airbase, although it did order the payment of compensation (Hingitaq 53 v Prime Minister’s Office, Danish Supreme Court [28 November 2003] (2004) 98 AJIL 572).Similarly, on a number of occasions the whilst English courts have ruled that Britain’s removal of the Chagos Islanders between 1965 and 1973 to make way for an American Military Base, and the Orders in Council (2004) preventing their return, are illegal (R. [Bancoult] v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [No 2] [2007] EWCA Civ 498). The British government has opposed long-term resettlement, and the House of Lords has subsequently, on appeal, upheld the legality of prerogative orders preventing the unrestricted return of the Chagos Islanders (R [Bancoult] v. Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [No 2] [2008] UKHL 61).

Entitlement to compensation for unlawful population transfer forms part of duty on the part of the responsible State to compensate victims of human rights abuses, which is increasingly gaining recognition in modern international law (Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur Paras 590–603). Such a right is also recognized in specific international instruments, sometimes as a prerequisite to the lawfulness of transfer, but also for loss and injury arising from the transfer (Article 16, ILO Convention No 169; Article 8 of the PTD; Principle 29of UN Guiding Principles, 1998). The Progress Report suggests that in the case of lawful transfer damage should be compensated “as a matter of equity” as per Para137 that analyses the Equity in International Law. There is also judicial recognition of a victim’s right to receive compensation for loss arising out of population transfer as stipulated in the Loizidou Case. This right may require general measures to be taken at the national level according to the Broniowski Case, Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey [ECtHR]). Further, in Demopoulos v. Turkey, the ECtHR dismissed the claims of Greek Cypriots based on the EuropeanConvention on Human Rights(ECHR) under its Article 8 and Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to the ECHR on grounds of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies, holding that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Immovable Property Commission provided “an accessible and practical framework of redressal in regarding complaints about interference with the property owned by Greek Cypriots adumbrated at Para 127. Amongst the recommendations of the Final Report at Para 74 is the establishment of an International Trust Fund (ITF) for rehabilitation of population transfer survivors. The issue of reparations for the slave trade remains contested which has been shown by discussions taking place during the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in 2001.

Conclusion

It may aptly be understood that presently many regions in the world mainly Balkans and the Caucasus in Europe, South Asia (Statelessness) and South East Asia  (displaced persons—Rohingya refugees) have been devastated by ethnic and racial conflicts. The global conflicts in Gulf region, Syria, Yemen, Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Lebanon, etc. have triggered massive human displacements, refugee migration and asylum seekers that have been forcing people to flee within their homelands or abroad owing to fear of persecution.The absence of a single global instrument on population transfer leads to overlap, inaccessibility, and disparity in the level of protection available to victims of different forms of population transfer. Some of these problems would be overcome if States were to adopt the Population Transfer Declaration. Given the deleterious consequences of population transfer and the difficulties of enforcing the law on consent, return, and compensation, it might be questioned whether legal provisions still weigh too heavily in favor of States and entities seeking to transfer.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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International Law

Geneva Conventions mark 70 years of ‘limiting brutality’ during war

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Seventeen UN Member States met in November 1947 to sign protocols to amend the Geneva Conventions of 1921, 1923, and 1933. UN Photo

In commemorating the 70th anniversary of the landmark Geneva Conventions, the president of the United Nations Security Council hailed the “significant body of law”, describing it as playing “a vital role in limiting brutality of armed conflicts”.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the treaty, comprised of four Conventions and three Additional Protocols, established the modern, international legal standards for humanitarian treatment during times of war. They were agreed on 12 August 1949, and with some exceptions, ratified by 196 countries around the world.

“As they are ratified and acceded by almost every State of the world, the principles and legal norms enshrined in these Conventions are also recognized as customary international humanitarian law [IHL] and are universally applicable”, said Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, speaking for his nation which holds the Presidency of the Council for August. “This is a rare quality for any multilateral treaty”.

Among other things, the Conventions established protections for vulnerable groups in armed conflict, namely the wounded and sick; prisoners of war; and civilians, including civilians living under occupation. 

Because Poland has been “painfully affected by consequences of other States’ failures to comply with international agreements” and in conjunction with its “sense of responsibility” to maintain international peace and security, Mr. Czaputowicz said that strengthening international law has always been important to his country.

“The greatest challenge to protecting human life in modem conflict is observance of and respect for the existing rules by the armed forces and non-State armed groups”, he asserted. “If existing rules were followed, much of the human suffering in contemporary armed conflicts would not occur”.

Poland’s top diplomat also pointed to new threats that demand practices and policy consistent with international humanitarian law.

“Artificial intelligence and autonomous weapon systems, such as military robots and cyber-weapons, reduce the role and control of human factors during wartime”, he continued. Moreover, the general rules of IHL prohibiting indiscriminate and inhumane weapons, “are being violated”.

Two IHL principles under the Geneva Conventions that deserve particular attention, according to Mr. Czaputowicz, are “the obligation to protect civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded and shipwrecked” as well as “limitations to the rights of parties to an armed conflict on how they conduct operations and on their choice of weapons”.

The increasing role of non-State actors and IHL legal loopholes are “the new reality of modem conflict”, he spelled out, bemoaning that they hinder international humanitarian law “in many ways”.

“International humanitarian principles are under pressure” and “the complexity of new challenges impedes the process of classification of conflict situations and makes it difficult to determine the exact rules that may be applied”, he elaborated.

‘Historic moment for humanity’

According to UN Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares, the four Conventions are “at the core” of IHL.

Noting that the first three conventions “were by no means completely novel at the time”, he singled out the Fourth Convention as being “the first treaty that was specifically dedicated to the protection of civilian persons in time of war”.

Mr. Soares also drew attention to Article 3, the provision on basic rules governing the humane treatment of people not involved in hostilities, including soldiers who have laid down their arms, those wounded or in detention, as well as civilians.

Calling the inclusion of Article 3 “a historic moment for humanity”, he said it was the first instance in which non-international armed conflicts were regulated by a multilateral treaty. The significance is augmented by the fact that the Geneva Conventions are now universally adhered to.

Conventions show ‘what is possible’

For his part, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), maintained that the Geneva Conventions represent “one of the greatest achievements of inter-State cooperation” and “symbolize our enduring and common humanity”.

“The Conventions show us what is possible when States take collective and individual action to uphold the law and humanitarian principles”, he said.

Noting that “every single day” international humanitarian law is at work saving lives and protecting women, men and children in conflicts, he highlighted that while “we rightly hear about the violations because the consequences are tragic and visible”, we must also “recognize the protective power and positive impacts when IHL is respected”.

The ICRC chief painted a picture of IHL in action, when the wounded and sick are evacuated to safety; the detained are treated with dignity; the fate of missing people is clarified; and humanitarian assistance is delivered across lines.

“The impacts of IHL are also shown through acts of restraint, when horrors are not inflicted – civilian areas are spared from direct shelling, medical workers are able to freely operate without threat or targeting”, he added.

Continued violations do not mean the law is inadequate, but rather that efforts to ensure respect are inadequate, he flagged, urging “we can – and must – do more”.

The world must not forget that “the Geneva Conventions represent a line of our common humanity, and they shield us from our own barbarity”, underscored Mr. Maurer.

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Kerfuffle about Kashmir’s `special status’

Amjed Jaaved

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It is eerie that Pakistan’s foreign office, media and politicians have shallow understanding of the Kashmir dispute. Let us not forget dimensions to the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan is committed to United Resolutions. These resolutions do not recognise `accession’ of disputed Kashmir under a resolution of the puppet Constituent Kashmir assembly or under Maharajah’s `instrument of accession’.

India never presented the accession `resolution’ or the `maharajah’s instrument’ before the UN. Yet, it claimed that the occupied Kashmir’s constituent assembly had voted for accession to India. As such, it is no longer necessary for her to let the promised plebiscite be held in Kashmir. Now, it has abrogated `special status’, hitherto quid pro quo.  Has disputed Kashmir reverted to 1947 status in India’s own parlance?

In parliament, Amit Shah banked on the `instrument’ which is void.  The Independence Act required intention of accession to be absolute and crystal-clear. But, a stray glance at the ‘Instrument’ would make it clear that it is equivocal. The ‘Instrument’ expresses ‘intention to set up an interim government and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities’ with maharajah’s prime minister. The last sentence in the ‘Instrument’ is ‘In haste and with kind regards’. Handwritten corrections on the text of the ‘Instrument’ speak volubly about the wavering state of the maharajah’s mind. Any `instrument’, extracted under coercion and duress, is invalid under law.

Subsequent accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’, also, is void. This resolution violates the Security Council’s resolutions forbidding India from going ahead with the accession farce. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

`Accession instrument’ is a myth, unregistered with the UN. Alastair Lamb, in his book Incomplete Partition (Chapter VI: The accession Crisis, pp.149-151) points out that Mountbatten wanted India not to intervene militarily without first getting `instrument of accession’ from maharajah Hari Singh.  Not doing so would amount to `intervening in the internal affairs of what was to all intents and purposes an independent State in the throes of civil conflict’.  But, India did not heed his advice. It marched its troops into Kashmir without maharajah’s permission _ an act of aggression. Lamb says `timing of the alleged Instrument of Accession undoubtedly affected its legitimacy'(p.172, ibid). He adds `If in fact took place after the Indian intervention, then it could well be argued that it was either done under Indian duress or to regularise an Indian fait accompli’.

Lamb concludes (p. 191, ibid):`According to Wolpert, V. P. Menon returned to Delhi from Srinagar on the morning of 26 October with no signed Instrument of Accession.  Only after the Indian troops had started landing at Srinagar airfield on the morning of 27 October did V. P.   Menon and M. C. Mahajan set out from Delhi from Jammu. The Instrument of Accession, according to Wolpert, was only signed by Maharajah Sir Hari Singh after Indian troops had assumed control of the Jammu and Kashmir State’s summer capital, Srinagar.

Lamb also regards the Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990). He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947.

It is eerie to note that India has never shown the original Instrument’ in any international forum. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes.

Pakistan’s foreign office faux pas

Pakistan should not accept `special status’ as a fait accompli. Instead, it should focus on human-rights violations, and right of self-determination under UN conventions. While agitating these issues, Pakistan should avoid the legal wizard, a self-styled `international-law expert’, founder of a research society of international law, who selected Reqo Diq-fiasco incompetent legal team.

In his weekly press briefing, Pakistan foreign-office director general (South Asia and SAARC) Dr. Mohammad Faisal said (April 6, 2019), “Pakistan will never accept the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution… Besides violating the rights of Kashmiris, it will also contravene relevant UNSC (UN Security Council) Resolutions”. He added that Article 370 was incorporated in India’s Constitution in October 1949. And, it exempts Jammu and Kashmir from the country’s Constitution while allowing the state to draft its own [constitution]. Not so. Article 370 violates UN resolutions. Article 370 is rooted in accession-to-India resolution of so-called `constituent assembly’ of the disputed Kashmir. The `assembly’ itself banks on Maharajah Hari Singh’s mythical `Instrument of Accession’, not registered with the UNO. By accepting Article 370 and occupied Kashmir’s constitution, Pakistan binds itself to accepting Azad Kashmir as part of India. The IHK’s constitution provides seats for Azad Kashmir. Will Pakistan hold elections in Azad Kashmir under Indian or IHK’s constitution?

If our foreign office revisits Kashmir-case files, it will come to know that: (a) India never registered Instrument of Accession with the United Nations.  In the summer of 1995, the Indian authorities reported the original document as lost or stolen? (b) Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions _ Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 _ to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly.. These resolutions outlaw accession or any other action to change status of the disputed state. (c) Pakistan stresses international-law jus cogen `pacta sunt servanda’ treaties are to be abided by, being binding on signatories. Non-compliance reduces a state to status of a rogue state. (d) India through a series of steps whittled down Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and 35-A of India’s Constitution. Governor replaced sadr-e-riast who could conveniently dismiss wazir-e-riast (now chief minister). (e) Kashmiri leaders are begging for `election’ which is ultra vires of UN resolutions. Kashmiris’ fate of total integration hangs in hands of petition pending with India’s Supreme Court.

Pakistan’s information minister’s statement

In a prelude to Foreign Office spokesman’s statement (April 6, 2019), Pakistan’s information minister had dared India hold elections in Indian-held Kashmir (March 11, 2019). Taking the two statements juxtaposed, the inference is that Pakistan implicitly admits that: (a) Jammu and Kashmir is not a disputed territory. It is an `integral part of India’. IHK had acceded to India as per the maharajah’s Instrument of Accession not registered with UNO or invoked on UN forums. (b) `Pakistan administered Kashmir’ (Azad Kashmir) is under illegal occupation by Pakistan. Heretofore I quote from IHK’s `Constitution’.

`Preamble to the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR,having solemnly resolved, in pursuance of the accession of this State to India which took place on the twenty sixth day of October, 1947, to further define the existing relationship of the State with the Union of India as a part thereof…’.

`Relations with Government of India

Article 3 in part 2 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution reads as,

“Relationship of the State with the Union of India:-The State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India.

Relations with Pakistan administered Kashmir

Article 48 of Part VI of Jammu and Kashmir constitution defines Pakistan administered Kashmir as “Pakistan Occupied Territory”.

There are currently 87 seats in Jammu and Kashmir State assembly, but article 48 of Jammu and Kashmir constitution also recognizes 24 seats from Pakistan administered Kashmir and mentions that these 24 seats will remain vacant till Pakistan ceases the “occupation” of Kashmir and the said area shall be excluded in delimiting the territorial constituencies till that time.

To India’s pleasure, Pakistan’s chagrin

What information minister or foreign-office said should please India? For, India says clasula rebus sic stantibus, a fundamental change of circumstances (literally `things as they stand’), making plebiscite demand an anachronism.

Look at Janus-faced Pundit Jawaharlal Kaul/Nehru. Nehru had earlier declared in a radio broadcast (Nov 2, 1947) that the government of India was “prepared, when peace and order have been established in Kashmir, to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations.” I am quoting from Chaudhri Mohammad Ali’s The Emergence of Pakistan.

Nehru be-fooled Sheikh Abdullah to stab Pakistan in the back. Barkha Dutt recalls (This Unquiet Land, p. 154) `In a 1948 speech to the United Nations, Sheikh Abdullah … made a blistering defence of the accession to India. Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) roared, :I had thought all along that the world had got rid of  Hitlers…but what is happening in my poor country I am convinced that they have transmigrated their souls into Pakistan…I refuse to accept Pakistan as a party in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir’

Dutt says, “Sheikh Abdullah [later] began to talk about possibility of independent Kashmir…Soon after he changed his stance he was jailed and dismissed from office and was not able to lead the state for another twenty years’. Stanley Wolpert and Alastair Lamb (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990, Birth of a Tragedy) also doubt existence of Instrument of Accession (October 26, 1947).

Pakistan’s foreign office has yet to produce a luminary of the caliber of Indian foreign secretaries Shiv Shankar Menon, Krishnan Srinivasan, JN Dixit and Jagat S. Mehta. These gentlemen knew that Kashmir was not an atoot ang (unbreakable part), but a disputed state. India and Parvez Musharraf partly implemented Mehta’s proposals. His proposals are contained in his article “Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s” Some points of his quasi-solution are: (a) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. (b) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (c) Immediate demilitarization of the LoC to a depth of five to ten miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a “cold freeze”) for an agreed period. Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press, New York pp. 225-228). Mehta’s thinking is in line with JN Dixit’s. Dixit says ‘it is no use splitting legal hair. “Everybody who has a sense of history knows that legality only has relevance up to the threshold of transcending political realities. And especially in inter-state relations… so to quibble about points of law and hope that by proving a legal point you can reverse the process of history is living in a somewhat contrived utopia. It won’t work.”(Victoria Schofield’s book Kashmir in the Crossfire). 

Conclusion

Does Pakistan’s Foreign Office abide by IHK and India’s constitutions? When shall Pakistan cease its `occupation of Azad Kashmir’ to hold elections on 24 seats reserved for Pakistan-administered Kashmir’? Certainly, the afore-quoted statements do not reflect Pakistan’s position on Kashmir dispute, based on UN resolutions. India has no mandate to change the status of the disputed state through sham elections, or sham `special status’. It is time Pakistan gagged its loose-cannon information minister, unbridled foreign-office, or politicians.  It’s time for Pakistan about militarisation of Kashmir, human right violations and need for self-determination, recognised under UN conventions and resolutions. 

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International Law

Reserve judgment: Arbitrating energy disputes in Africa

Simon Sloane

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As African states seek to use national laws to protect their natural resources and increase revenue from their development, Fieldfisher dispute resolution partner, Simon Sloane, considers the difficulties facing energy companies seeking to protect their investments while respecting the transformational needs of host states.

Africa’s capacity to benefit equitably from its own natural resources continues to be one of the main challenges facing many of its most energy-abundant jurisdictions.

While blaming this state of affairs on the old “resource curse” myth is simplistic and unhelpful, it remains the case that nations rich in resources tend to be poorer and less developed than those which are not, with many of the benefits of their exploitation going offshore.

Despite the clear moral case for African countries to profit more from their energy and mineral reserves, legally the picture is more complicated.

Much of the cost and risk of extracting these resources tends to be shouldered by foreign investors, who expect to be compensated for their outlays and assume that the terms on which they invested will be protected by local and international laws.

Consequently, any new domestic legislation guaranteeing host countries a “fair” share of the revenues from internationally funded projects is often treated as breaching protections given to foreign investors in bilateral investment treaties (BITs).

There have been numerous incidents of foreign companies successfully bringing arbitrations against African states that have tried to amend investment terms retrospectively, with investors relying on safeguards such as fair and equitable treatment (FET) and non-expropriation rights provided in BITs.

This has led to growing scepticism among African governments of (particularly first and second generation) BITs, as these treaties are often perceived as looking after the interests of foreign investors, to the detriment of states’ needs to transform their economies.

Affirmative action

A handful of African countries, including South Africa and Tanzania, have recently cancelled a number of their BITs – a situation that has created tension between the desire to preserve domestic assets for the national benefit and the need to attract foreign investment to fuel economic growth.

Domestic legislation designed to promote equitable ownership include South Africa’s black economic empowerment initiatives, which compel 26% of shares in mining assets to be distributed to disadvantaged local people.

In Tanzania, new laws including the Natural Wealth and Resources Contracts (Review and Re-negotiation of Unconscionable Terms) Act, 2017 and the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act, give the government power to renegotiate contracts with investors on terms more favourable to the state.

Although international arbitration is generally a last resort for resources companies when disputes arise, lately there has been a noticeable increase in requests for arbitration in circumstances where African states have sought to implement alternative local laws.

BIT terms and Western-centric legal principles rarely align with traditional African customary laws and there is a growing unwillingness in many African states to accept foreign rulings over key national assets, which can make the enforcement of an international arbitration award against a state politically challenging.

Since relatively few African court decisions are published, it is hard to tell statistically where many countries are in terms of compliance with international arbitration awards, and how many are resisting enforcement.

There have been some very public rejections of international arbitrators’ decisions.

Zimbabwe, for example, has resisted recent efforts to enforce awards made against it in US courts.

Nigerian courts have also refused the local enforcement of a multi-billion dollar London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA)commercial arbitration award against a state-owned entity in favour of foreign investors, notwithstanding that the English courts have upheld the validity of the award (see P&ID Ltd v Federal State of Nigeria).

Yet even in cases where the authority of international arbitrators is accepted, the variety and nature of local laws can cause problems when it comes to implementing awards in African states.

Parallel proceedings

Growing distrust of the international arbitration system among African governments is a considerable problem for foreign investors, especially in the highly litigious energy sector, as there is currently no trusted alternative for resolving disputes.

Historically, arbitration has not been high on the agenda for most African states and relatively few African judges have significant experience of international arbitration.

Efforts are being made to redress this through legal education and there have been moves to establish regional arbitration centres throughout Africa that have the confidence of both states and investors, although these are yet to gain significant traction.

In the meantime, there continue to be serious problems in resolving energy project disputes caused by parallel proceedings, where one party will ignore an arbitration clause in a contract and ask for the matter to be addressed in a local court.

In these situations, partiesend up straddling one or more proceedings on the same issues, with different tribunals and courts regularly reaching different decisions and with the added hurdle of a party facing competing anti-suit or anti-arbitration injunctions.

Such circumstances are common where at least one partner is foreign and relies on an arbitration clause in a contract or its public international law rights under a BIT, while local parties are more naturally inclined to seek decisions from local judges.

Often, the impasse is caused by local judges who are suspicious of the international arbitration process and are not willing to abdicate their powers to a foreign tribunal .

Pre-empting problems

In many cases, the need for arbitration can be avoided by careful and far-sighted approaches to contract negotiation.

Simply including an arbitration clause in a contract will not automatically prevent the parties ending up in messy disputes being contested simultaneously in domestic and international courts.

Energy projects especially will usually involve a complicated series of contracts between international energy companies and one or more domestic counterparts, including government bodies, local investors and contractors.

If a domestic party decides to ignore an arbitration clause and asks a local court to intervene, the foreign party then has to choose whether to seek an injunction and refer the dispute to arbitration, or submit to the local court’s jurisdiction.

In these situations, the international partner is likely to have difficulty locally enforcing any award they obtain, if they proceed with the arbitration.

Alternatively, the international party can opt to engage in the local court process which can expose them to the vagaries of an unfamiliar legal system.

Where there is a suite of contracts containing different arbitration clauses, this leaves the parties open to arguments about which arbitration clause governs which dispute and the possibility of multiple proceedings.

Habitually, there is a lack of attention given by lawyers drafting contracts to what are sometimes mandatory laws to protect natural resources.

Rules obliging infrastructure developers to use local contractors on large projects are also frequently ignored.

This failure to respect local laws can lead to litigation in local courts, especially as communities become more empowered to challenge this practice, over issues which should have been addressed at the drafting stage.

While not wholly avoidable, the risk of becoming embroiled in paralysing disagreements can be minimised by careful drafting and fully thinking through how proceedings will work in particular African jurisdictions.

Intra-African arbitration centres

One of the solutions being implemented to improve the perception of international arbitration in African disputes is the establishment of local arbitration centres.

In 2016 alone, there were more than 70 international arbitration centres operating across Africa,, with varying degrees of credibility, and more have sprung up since.

The Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, established in 1979, has been notably successful in attracting Arab and north-Saharan arbitrations.

In Nigeria, the Lagos Court of Arbitration is growing in stature, as are the Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC) in Rwanda and the Ghana Arbitration Centre.

The Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Centre (CIMAC) in Morocco and the Mauritius International Arbitration Centre (MIAC), which was previously an offshoot of the LCIA, are also actively seeking to play active roles in resolving African disputes.

China’s approach to arbitrating in Africa is also worth paying attention to. The China-Africa Joint Arbitration Centre (CJAC) in Shanghai was specifically set up to deal with infrastructure project disputes, and China is now looking to set up centres with broader mandates in East and West Africa.

The goal of all of these African centres is to regionalise arbitration, so that cases involving precious national assets are dealt with in Africa by African lawyers and arbitrators, with the buy-in of African governments and international investors.

However, until local courts are equipped to play a supportive role in arbitration, it may be hard for these centres to command confidence, especially when there are so many centres competing to hear arbitrations.

Transparency within the local court system also needs to improve, as where there is little or no access to court judgments, the worst assumptions are going to prevail.

International investors need to feel they can trust the integrity of local courts before they can be comfortable with their handling of cases.

The Paris-headquartered International Court of Arbitration (ICA) is pushing to improve the transparency of enforcement, on the grounds that it is important for tribunals and courts to know what other courts are doing, and for the rest of the world to see that key treaties are not being overturned and set aside.

The Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) is similarly seeking to facilitate a pro-arbitration stance in West Africa.

It is worth noting that suggestions around using institutionally appointed arbitrators, who have the advantage of proven expertise in the area they are arbitrating on, have generally received a cool reception by courts, states and investors.

Stabilisation clauses

The use of stabilisation clauses in contracts as a means for foreign investors to mitigate or manage political risks associated with their project is coming under scrutiny in Africa.

The World Bank and other multi-lateral development organisations favour the deployment of clauses that allow an investor to sue a state if the terms on which they invested change, as a way of increasing investment in Africa and developing economies in general.

But it is becoming increasingly evident that such clauses bind African governments and prevent them from amending local labour and environmental laws or their fiscal regimes, even if such reforms are deemed necessary to transform their societies and enhance domestic economies.

Although many African countries recognise that including stabilisation clauses in a BIT is likely to lead to expensive disputes that state balance sheets can ill afford, the need to attract foreign investment means that most governments are still willing to take the risk.

This is an area that multi-lateral organisations need to review, as it is clear that the current situation does not adequately serve the transformational needs of many African states.

New model treaties

Simultaneously with the growth of local arbitration centres, a raft of regional investment and co-operation agreements have sprung up to foster intra-African state and private investment from home-grown and international sources.

The majority of these agreements contain carve-outs expressly to enable African states to address their transformational needs, including exemptions for disenfranchised communities and the need to protect natural resources, without the fear of incurring liability to foreign investors.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), signed in Kigali in March 2018, is intended to provide a platform for intra-African investment between 27 African Union member states, both at state level and for private investors.

It is also hoped that the AfCFTA will go some way towards dealing with the perception that foreign investors have advantages over local partners under traditional BITs, and with some of the problems of enforcing courts’ decisions on disputes.

The New York Convention

One major benefit of international arbitration is the ease of enforcement in foreign jurisdictions which are signatories to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (“the New York Convention”).

In sub-Saharan Africa, a region which comprises 46 of Africa’s 54 countries, many but not all jurisdictions have ratified the New York Convention.

The challenge now will be to ensure that the convention is properly implemented and respected by all signatories.

African governments are also closely following developments in Europe around the Investment Court System as an alternative to international arbitration, for resolving investor disputes in EU member states.

Tackling corruption

Non-governmental organisation Transparency International singles out the global oil and gas industry as one of the business sectors at the greatest risk of corruption, with Africa being a particular hot spot.

While there has been ample evidence of corrupt practices in some jurisdictions, observers should be cautious generalising about Africa, as many African countries are highly ranked as places to do business cleanly and legally.

Corruption is one of the issues at the heart of many governments’ dissatisfaction with the international arbitration system, as it smacks of injustice that an investor may be involved in illegal activity, by coercion or by choice, yet still win significant arbitration awards.

There have been a few advances in BITs and model laws that indicate international law is starting to get to grips with the issue.

The Dutch Model BIT published earlier this year allows tribunals to take into account whether there has been corruption when making an award – a development that has been largely welcomed and is likely to be replicated in other BITs around the world.

The Nigeria-Morocco BIT (the Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Investment Agreement) signed in late 2016, which contains a comprehensive anti-corruption provision, is also seen as one of the most progressive new formats of BIT.

The future of African energy disputes

Anyone considering making investments in Africa needs to be aware that there are a number of regional treaties to be complied with in order to benefit from investment protections.

There continue to be unresolved questions around enforcement mechanisms and what protections are enforceable through arbitration, especially as countries pull out of BITs.

For users or would-be users of the arbitration system, there are some difficult choices to be made for those who find themselves in the midst of several parallel proceedings.

While disputants may be convinced that they are legally right that arbitration is the way to resolve an issue, parties need to be very certain that there is some kind of enforcement option available to justify the time and expense involved.

Otherwise, disputes can turn into difficult procedural battles between arbitrators and local court proceedings, leading to spiralling costs and project delays, ultimately forcing parties to abandon the case.

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