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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

Validity of Reservations of Bangladesh against Article 2 of CEDAW

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One of the greatest victories for the post-modern feminist movement in the arena of International Law was the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, hereinafter, the Convention). Often termed as the harbinger of an alternative understanding of the feminist cause going beyond the Human Rights regime, the Convention heralded the greatest possible change in the Status of women, recognized internationally. Often regarded as the International Bill of Rights for Women, CEDAW is a comprehensive treaty on the rights of women and establishes legally binding obligations on the State Parties to follow the legal standards set by it to end discrimination against women by achieving equality between men and women. (Tackling Violence against Women, London School of Economic Blog)

Despite the theoretical attempts at establishing an equal society, for most part of the World, the coverage of the Convention is minimal. This is mostly because of the ‘reservations’ made by member States in the name of personal laws often originating in their religious set up. The personal laws in their very inception are rooted in the ideas of patriarchy, dominance of men, and lesser roles for women. Many instances from the sources of these personal laws would prove that men are in charge of women and hence can direct their personal spheres. These discriminatory personal laws are protected even in the most advanced constitutional setups either through a document or a bill of rights within the purview of Right to Religion. As a consequence, many countries in order to show their neutrality towards the concept of Religion and to establish the beautiful ideals of secularism tend to overlook the discrimination these religious laws preach.

In the current Article, the researcher provides an analysis as to what kind of reservations are permitted under the CEDAW, and how Bangladesh completely misunderstood its qualified right of Reservations, as an absolute right and established an anomaly, which doesn’t merely contradict its international commitments but also the fundamental principles of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

Concept of Reservations to Treaties

The existing ambiguities in the treaty reservations law have often led to irregularities and illegalities in law. In 1969 the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was adopted to codify practice and provide legal guidance on the meaning of reservations and a uniform procedure for entering them. The Vienna Convention provides that reservations may not be made that are “incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.” (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (23 May 1969), Entered into force 27 January 1980. United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1155, p. 331.) This provision raises as many questions as it answers, as the Vienna Convention does not define “object and purpose,” nor does it indicate what body has the power to determine validity. The Vienna Convention also provides for state parties to object to a reservation within twelve months of its entry. However, objections do not dispose of the question of validity, although some states have objected to reservations to CEDAW on the ground of invalidity. In 1994,M. Alain Pellet, the Special Rapporteur on Reservation to treaties, addressed various aspects of the reservation issues. The most significant for purposes of dealing with CEDAW and other human rights treaties is his discussion of reservations to “normative” treaties. The international human rights treaties differ from most other treaties in that their implementation is monitored by bodies that are established by the terms of the respective treaties. (Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 24 on Reservations, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/dd.6 (November, 1994), republished as HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6.) Despite establishments of treaty bodies, within the framework of treaties, who hold authority to judge any reservations on its merits, all these bodies have had issues with reservations.

The Convention permits ratification subject to reservations. Some state parties that enter reservations to the Convention do not enter reservations to analogous provisions in other human rights treaties. A number of states enter reservations to particular articles on the ground that national law, tradition, religion or culture are not congruent with Convention principles, and purport to justify the reservation on that basis. (Reservations to CEDAW, Available at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reservations.htm, accessed on 6/10/2019).Article 28 (2) of the Convention adopts the impermissibility principle contained in art. 19 (c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The impermissibility principle states that any reservation which is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty shall be invalid. The CEDAW Committee considers art. 2 as the core provision of the Convention. The Committee holds the view that art. 2 central to the objects and purpose of the Convention and as a consequence its importance cannot be neglected. States parties which ratify the Convention do so because there exists an agreement between all the states that any form of discrimination against women in all its forms should be condemned and that strategies set out in art. 2, should be implemented by States parties to eliminate it. How far the traditional, religious or cultural practice, incompatible domestic laws or other policies can justify violations of the Convention, needs some thorough scrutiny.

Fundamental Rights under the Constitution of Bangladesh

Article 7 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 refers to Supremacy of Constitution and all powers to be exercised in consonance with the same, as it manifests the will of the people of the Republic. The Constitution also guarantees various fundamental rights to its citizens and explicitly states than any law inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights shall be void. The Constitution also promotes equality (art. 27, Constitution of Bangladesh) and prohibits any form of discrimination against women in all spheres of state and in the public life (art. 28(2) Constitution of Bangladesh). Despite these provisions proclaiming equality and non-discrimination against women in the law of the land, Bangladesh holds reservations against art. 2 of the Convention, which, as already discussed above is crucial for the objects and purposes of the Convention. The ground, as repeatedly claimed by Bangladesh, for such reservation is that these provisions contradict the Sharia Law based on Holy Quran and Sunnah. As a response to this, neither the Committee nor any State party has belaboured the issue. Bangladesh withdrew the reservations to Articles 13(a) and 16 (1) (f) of the Convention in 1997 but has not withdrawn the Article 2 and Article 16 (1) (c). The Committee has continued to press on the question of withdrawing the remaining reservations, however mostly unsuccessfully.

Periodic Committee Reports at a glance

Soon after the ratification of the treaty, in 1996 the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affair constituted an inter-ministerial committee to review the reservations to the Convention. The report of the Committee reaffirmed the supremacy of the law, and stated that Bangladesh doesn’t have Sharia Law as such rather certain provisions have been codified into legislation. Also, the report suggested that the provisions of Sharia are not immutable and hence can be reinterpreted as per need of time. (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Third and Fourth Report of State Parties: Bangladesh, CEDAW/C/BGD/3-4 p 26 (April 1, 1997)).

Again in 2004, during the 31st session of the CEDAW, in its fifth report the Bangladeshi representative asserted their intention to withdraw all the reservations. The Committee was gratified to hear that Bangladesh intended to withdraw its reservations to the Convention in the near future. In doing so, it would ensure the effective implementation of the Convention and send a significant message to other Muslim nations. (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Fifth Report (Continued), Summary Record of 654 Meeting, CEDAW/C/BGD/5, para 61, (July 9, 2004))

Regarding the optional protocol, Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, observed, although Bangladesh had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, its reservations to articles 2 and 16.1 (c) effectively meant that the Optional Protocol was not applicable regarding certain rights provided for in the Convention. She remarked that the Bangladeshi delegation had stated that the Government was gradually taking steps to implement the equal rights guaranteed to men and women under the Constitution, and she would appreciate knowing why that was the case, since those rights should be granted, not on a gradual basis, but immediately. (Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, 5th Periodic Report: Bangladesh, Summary Records CEDAW/5/SR.653 (12th August 2004)) The fifth periodic report also focused on the ongoing role of NGOs and other Civil Societies stating their lobbying efforts and advocacy attempts to remove reservations from the Article 2 and 16.1 (c).

Most recently, the 8th Periodic Report submitted in 2016, recalled the importance of Law Commission (hereinafter, LC) reports, which is a statutory body empowered to recommend enactment, amendment or repealing of laws relating to fundamental rights and values of society. Since 2009, the LC has suggested reform of laws for the promotion of human rights, including prevention of sexual harassment in educational institutions and workplaces, prevention of violence against women, protection of victims and witnesses to grave offences, reform of Hindu family laws and the withdrawal of reservation on the two Articles (2 and 16.1(c) of CEDAW. (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 8th Periodic Report: Bangladesh, May 2015) In the report, the Bangladeshi representative submitted that the Government is aware about the potential movements by the Islamic fundamentalist groups against the withdrawal of the reservations. Therefore, cautious steps are being taken so as not to jeopardize application of the principles of CEDAW. Partnership and cooperation with civil society is essential to create a positive environment for the withdrawal of reservation.

The abovementioned constitutional provisions and periodic reports show that despite being an equal society, at least constitutionally, the abovementioned reservations appear highly mis-founded as they can essentially have only two understandings- first, Sharia is inherently discriminatory against women; Second, Bangladesh has wrongly appreciated and understood Sharia, which has misguided such reservations. While the first one could not be agreed for most of its part, as 29 out of 57 members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with Sharia law in force, have ratified the treaty without any reservations. When it comes to Second observation, then it can be affirmatively said that the Bangladeshi reservation is rooted in the wrong conception of its own religious conceptions and practices. Various reports suggest that the Sharia is not immutable and such changes can be made as per the needs of time. This can be regarded as one of the most important times where call for such amendments in the Bangladeshi understanding and interpretation of Sharia Law as the crime against women in the South Asian region is on all-time high. (See Media Report)

Concluding Remarks

In light of the above-mentioned facts it becomes imperative to understand the prospects of such reservations both in law and in practice along with the methods of tackling the existing obstacles in the implementation of women centric legislations. While Bangladesh has accepted the irregularity of its reservations to the CEDAW in every periodic report submitted to the CEDAW, yet any action for the withdrawal of the same is still an implausible idea because of the pressure on the Government exerted by fundamentalist groups active in Bangladesh. As the reservation contradicts various provisions of the Constitution of Bangladesh like Articles 26, 27, 28, 29, etc, they are inherently invalid. But despite the vehement oppositions from various NGOs and civil societies to the reservations, no such remark has yet been made by the judiciary of Bangladesh. Along with reiteration of supremacy of constitution over sharia law, it is necessary for the courts to remove the divide between public and private spaces. While private spaces are completely untouched by the State, it is imperative that the manifestations of such personal practices which become social factors should be regulated. Alternatively, reading the reservation invalid within the purview of Sharia Law can be another plausible task that the Government can undertake. Taking into consideration the examples of other Islamic nations, which have no reservations against the CEDAW, can also be beneficial to the withdrawing of reservation procedure. These exemplified and exalted examples of law in other Islamic nations which don’t have reservations can help Bangladesh cope up with the resistance to the withdrawal by the fundamentalist forces.

Regarding reservations of Bangladesh, it can be concluded that they are highly misplaced because of inherent problem in their conception. States are required to be proactive in adopting laws and policies to eliminate discrimination against women and in attempting to modify or abolish discriminatory “customs and practices.” As the article lays out the fundamental requirement to comply with all articles of the Convention in the State party’s constitution, statutes, and policies, it is imperative for Bangladesh to withdraw the same.

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International Law

Schweitzer’s ‘Reverence for Life’ In the Age of Trump and Modi

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Forever known by his phrase ‘reverence for life’, Albert Schweitzer was a theologian, moral philosopher, physician and missionary.  He was born in Alsace when it was German, and became a French citizen when it reverted back to France after the First World War.

To him this reverence implied regard for and a duty to all human beings, not “confined to blood relations or tribe” (The Teaching of Reverence for Life, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965, p. 9).  It is an inspiring thought for it leads naturally to peace and the end of wars.  He did not claim originality for the idea, noting that Lao-Tse and Confucius among others had already preceded him in espousing it (pp. 9-10).  He merely promoted it.

In this he was also of like mind with the 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who reminded us of conscience and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.  We are strings, he said, “that vibrate in sympathy with others”, endowed with a natural good that propels us to help our neighbors or the distressed (p. 20).  I am reminded of my father who always said, “You don’t treat a disease; you treat a patient.”

And then one wonders if these instincts have been consciously suppressed in some human beings.  One can think of two current leaders in particular:  Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.  Trump’s assertion, “he died like a dog” grates even if one violently disagrees with al-Baghdadi’s methods, wrenched as he was from the normal course of his life by a US invasion predicated on false charges.

Then there is Modi and his drumbeat of upper caste Hindu supremacy.  As US Representative Ro Khanna noted forcefully in a tweet, “It is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians.”

It was only a few days ago in India that a 27-year old Dalit man was beaten mercilessly and tossed in the river to die.  He had been fishing.  His crime:  a refusal to give his catch to a nearby Brahmin who wanted an equal share.  If it needs reminding, a Brahmin belongs to the highest caste, a Dalit or Untouchable to the lowest — someone who is frequently not allowed to use the village well.  The Dalit man killed was the sole support of his family.

For the people of Kashmir there is little respite.  A beautiful valley that could attract tourist dollars, instead is invaded by Indian troops.  When the Kashmiris protest their humiliation through demonstrations, even children are blinded by pellet guns.  Photos show decaying towns where empty streets are patrolled by sullen soldiers.

Then there are Palestinians, frequent casualties of the Israeli military, living the daily humiliations and frustrations of life between checkpoints — a life in prison in the case of Gaza where the soccer team is denied travel permits to play in a local tournament against a West Bank team.  I 

Gaza’s native son Dr. Ramzy Baroud shines a frequent light on the dark horror of three-quarters of a century of occupation.  Frequent articles and four books including the latest “These Chains Will be Broken” published this year– keep the world informed.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a peace activist.  His moving memoir I Shall not Hate followed a tragedy.  During the 2008 – 2009 Gaza invasion, a tank stationed itself outside his home (well known to the Israelis) and fired a shell killing three of his daughters aged 13, 15 and 21, and seriously injuring another who was 17.   In that war one of his nieces also died and another niece was grievously injured.

Who was it who said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The good doctor’s book is subtitled, “A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Dignity.”  It is a common quest across the world.

In Chile, protesters show no let-up and the country is unable to host the COP 25 climate change meeting.  Spain has offered to step in, despite its own Catalan independence movement problems. 

The Chile protests have so far resulted in 20 deaths and thousands injured.  Starting with a student protest on October 18 over a rise in Metro fares, they have ballooned to a million at one demonstration, the largest in the country’s history.  Vandalism, looting, bus burning are often a consequence and clashes with security forces follow.  President Sebastian Pinera has been obliged to reverse the fare increase, and is also promising higher taxes on the wealthy as well as an increase in the minimum wage. 

Examples of human strife do not end here.  Yet in the present era there is a common goal for humanity when it faces the existential threat of climate change.  Surely then we can form a common bond, extend Schweitzer’s reverence to include all life, and strive to save our one and only home.  As Schweitzer observes (p. 31), “Reverence for life, arising when intelligence operates upon the will to live, contains within itself affirmation of the universe and of life.”

Author’s note: This article appeared first on Counterpunch.org 

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International Law

Salvaging international law: The best of bad options

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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These are uncertain times with trade wars, regional conflicts and increased abuse of human and minority rights pockmarking the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. What may be potentially the most dangerous casualty of the transition is the abandonment of even a pretence to the adherence to international law.

Violations of international law and abuse of human and minority rights dominate news cycles in a world in which leaders, that think in exclusive civilizational rather than inclusive national terms, rule supreme.

Examples are too many to comprehensively recount.

They include semi-permanent paralysis of the United Nations Security Council as a result of big power rivalry; last month’s Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in a bid to change the region’s demography; ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar; disenfranchisement of millions, predominantly Muslims, in India; and a Chinese effort to fundamentally alter the belief system of Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

It’s not that international law was adhered to prior to the rise of presidents like Donald J. Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orban of Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It wasn’t. Witness, as just one instance, widespread condemnation of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as a violation of international law.

The silver lining at the time was the fact that international law was at least a reference point for norms and standards by which leaders and governments were judged. It still is, at least theoretically, but it no longer is the standard to which leaders and governments necessarily pay lip service. Today, they do so only when opportunistically convenient.

Instead, violations of territorial sovereignty, as well as human and minority rights, has become the norm.

It also is the de facto justification for the creation of a new world order, in which a critical mass of world leaders often defines the borders and national security of their countries in civilizational and/or ethnic, cultural or religious terms.

The abandonment of principles enshrined in international law, with no immediate alternative standard setter in place, raises the spectre of an era in which instability, conflict, mass migration, radicalization, outbursts of popular frustration and anger, and political violence becomes the new normal.

Last month’s killing of Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu nationalist politician in Uttar Pradesh, because of a defamatory comment about the Prophet Mohammed that he allegedly made four years ago, reflects the deterioration of Muslim-Hindu relations in Mr. Modi’s increasingly Hindu nationalist India.

Perhaps more alarming is the recent declaration by Oren Hazan, a Knesset member for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, that China’s incarceration of at least a million Muslims in re-education camps, or what Beijing calls vocational education facilities, was a model for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

Equally worrisome is last month’s revocation by Mr. Putin of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions related to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. Mr. Putin justified the revocation on the grounds that an international commission, set up in order to investigate war crimes against civilians, risks abuse of the commission’s power “by the states, which are acting in bad faith.”

Russia alongside Iran and the government of President Bashar al-Assad have been accused of multiple war crimes in war-ravaged Syria. So have anti-Assad rebels, irrespective of their political or religious stripe.

Russia’s withdrawal from the Geneva protocol, Mr. Hazan’s endorsement of Chinese policy and Turkey’s intervention in Syria in an environment that legitimizes abandonment of any pretext of adherence to international law as well as ultra-nationalist and supremacist worldviews are indicators of what a world would look like in which laws, rules and regulations governing war and peace and human and minority rights are no longer the standards against which countries and governments are measured.

The fact that Mr. Al-Assad, a ruthless autocrat accused of uncountable war crimes, is increasingly being perceived as Syria’s best hope after more than eight years of brutal civil war aggravated by foreign intervention, drives the point home.

“As depressing as it is to write this sentence, the best course of action today is for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to regain control over northern Syria. Assad is a war criminal whose forces killed more than half a million of his compatriots and produced several million refugees. In a perfect world, he would be on trial at The Hague instead of ruling in Damascus. But we do not live in a perfect world, and the question we face today is how to make the best of a horrible situation,” said prominent US political scientist Stephen M. Walt.

The problem is that stabilizing Syria by restoring legitimacy to an alleged war criminal may provide temporary relief, but also sets a precedent for a world order, in which transparency and accountability fall by the wayside. It almost by definition opens the door to solutions that plant the seeds for renewed conflict and bloodshed.

International law was and is no panacea. To paraphrase Mr. Walt’s argument, it is the best of bad options.

Abandoning the standards and norms embedded in international law will only perpetuate flawed policies by various states that were destined to aggravate and escalate deep-seated grievances, discord and conflict rather than fairly and responsibly address social, cultural and political issues that would contribute to enhanced societal cohesion.

Identifying the problem is obviously easy. Solving it is not, given that the players who would need to redress the issue are the violators themselves.

Ensuring that nations and leaders respect international law in much the same way that citizens are expected to honour their country’s laws would have to entail strengthening international law itself as well as its adjudication. That would have to involve a reconceptualization of the United Nations Security Council as well as the International Court of Justice.

That may not be as delusionary as it sounds. But leaders would have to be willing to recognize that criticisms of the application of international law, like Mr. Putin’s objections to the way the Geneva protocol is implemented, have a degree of merit.

In other words, like national laws, international law will only be effective if it is universally applied. Western legal principles insist that no one is exempt from the law. The same should apply to states, governments and leaders.

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