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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

The United Nations and the Neglected Conflict of Kashmir

Dr.Ghulam Nabi Fai

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The principle of ‘right of self-determination’ and its applicability to the 72-year-old Kashmir conflict needs to be considered during the 75th session of the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that is taking place between October 8 to November 10, 2020 at its headquarters in New York. The Committee will discuss and deliberate the issues related to international conflicts and decolonization. What I do hope to offer is an unstarry-eyed view of the fate of self-determination in Kashmir; and, the indispensability of convincing the United Nations that international peace and security would be strengthened, not weakened, by resolving the Kashmir conflict to the satisfaction of all parties concerned..

The self-determination of peoples is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter, which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes.

The concept seems to be as old as Government itself and was the basis of French and American revolutions. In 1916, President Wilson stated that self-determination is not a mere phrase. He said that it is an imperative principle of action and included it in the famous 14-point charter. This gave a prominence to the principle. Self-determination as conceived by Wilson was an imprecise amalgamation of several strands of thought, some long associated in his mind with the notion of “self-determination,” others hatched as a result or wartime developments, but all imbued with a general spirit of democracy.

Self- determination is a principle that has been developed in philosophic thought and practice for the last several hundred years. It is an idea that has caused people throughout the world to rise up and shed the chains of oppressive governments at great risk.

Finally, in 1945 the establishment of the UN gave a new dimension to the principle of self-determination.  It was made one of the objectives, which the UN would seek to achieve, along with equal rights of all nations. Article 1.2 of the Charter of the Untied Nations reads: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

From 1952 onwards, the General Assembly of the UN adopted a series of resolutions proclaiming the right to self-determination. The two most important of these are resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970. Resolution 1514 was seen almost exclusively as part of process of decolonization. 1514 is entitled: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”

International Court of Justice considered the several resolutions on decolonization process and noted:  “The subsequent development of International Law in regard to non-self governing territories as enshrined in the Charter of the UN made the principle of self-determination applicable to all of them.”  This opinion establishes the self-determination as the basic principle for the process of de-colonization.

The principle of self-determination in modern times can be defined as the right of peoples to determine their own political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural policies.  Self-determination in its literal meaning or at a terminological level also implies the right [of a people] to express itself to organize in whatever way it wants. A people must be free to express their will without interference or threat of interference from a controlling authority. This includes alien domination, foreign occupation and colonial rule.

Although, the applicability of the principle of the self-determination to the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations. It was upheld equally by India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council. Since, on the establishment of India and Pakistan as sovereign states, Jammu and Kashmir was not part of the territory of either, the two countries entered into an agreement to allow its people to exercise their right of self-determination under impartial auspices and in conditions free from coercion from either side. The agreement is embodied in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, explicitly accepted by both Governments. It is binding on both Governments and no allegation of non-performance of any of its provisions by either side can render it inoperative.

It is apparent from the record of the Security Council that India articulated the principle, accepted the practical shape the Security Council gave to it and freely participated in negotiations regarding the modalities involved. However, when developments inside Jammu & Kashmir made her doubt her chances of winning the plebiscite, she changed her stand and pleaded that she was no longer bound by the agreement. Of course, she deployed ample arguments to justify the somersault. But even though the arguments were of a legal or quasi-legal nature, she rejected a reference to the World Court to pronounce on their merits. This is how the dispute became frozen with calamitous consequences for Kashmir most of all, with heavy cost for Pakistan and with none too happy results for India itself.

By all customary moral and legal yardsticks, 23 million Kashmiris from both sides of the Ceasefire Line (CFL) enjoy a right to self-determination. Kashmir’s legal history entitles it to self-determination from Indian domination every bit as much as Eritrea’s historical independence entitled it to self-determination from Ethiopian domination.

India’s gruesome human rights violations in Kashmir also militate in favor of self-determination every bit as much as Yugoslavia’s human rights violations and ethnic cleansing created a right to self-determination in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kashmir’s history of social and religious tranquility further bolsters its claim to self-determination every bit as much as East Timor’s history of domestic peace before Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 entitled it to self-determination in 1999.                                   

If law and morality are overwhelmingly on the side of Kashmiri self-determination, then why has that quest been thwarted for 72 years? The answer is self-evident: the military might of India. India is too militarily powerful, including a nuclear arsenal, and too economically mesmerizing to expect the United States, the United Nations, NATO, or the European Union to intervene. The United States is reluctant to exert moral suasion or pressure to prod India because it covets more India’s alluring economic markets and collaboration in fighting global terrorism.  Further, the size and wealth of the Indian lobby in the United States dwarfs the corresponding lobbies supporting Kashmir.  

The world powers need to understand that there is no way the dispute can be settled once and for all except in harmony with the people’s will, and there is no way the people’s will can be ascertained except through an impartial vote. Secondly, there are no insuperable obstacles to the setting up of a plebiscite administration in Kashmir under the aegis of the United Nations. The world organization has proved its ability, even in the most forbidding circumstances, to institute an electoral process under its supervision and control and with the help of a neutral peace‑keeping force. The striking example of this is Namibia, which was peacefully brought to independence after seven decades of occupation and control by South Africa; East Timor and Southern Sudan, which got independence only through the intervention of the United Nations. Thirdly, as Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations Representative, envisaged seven decades ago, the plebiscite can be so regionalized that none of the different zones of the state will be forced to accept an outcome contrary to its wishes.

In conclusion, a sincere and serious effort towards a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute must squarely deal with the realities of the situation and fully respond to the people’s rights involved in it. Indeed, any process that ignores the wishes of the people of Kashmir and is designed to sidetrack the United Nations will not only prove to be an exercise in futility but can also cause incalculable human and political damage.

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International Law

UN anniversary’s gloomy takeaways

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On its 75th anniversary and amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has for the first time convened world leaders mainly in an online format to seek action and solutions for a world in crisis.

The UNO’s predecessor, the League of Nations, wrapped up its work with the outbreak of World War 2, but the further the start of the present United Nations slides back in history, the more skeptical assessments of its performance are being heard today. How come?

The United Nations Organization was created by the victorious nations shortly after the end of the Second World War, but the idea of ​​creating a new international organization tasked with maintaining global peace and security was actually floated by members of the anti-Hitler coalition even before the war was over. During their August 14, 1941 meeting at the British naval station Argentia (Newfoundland), US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inked the Atlantic Charter, which defined the two countries’ goals in the war against Nazi Germany, and outlined the first sketches of the post-war world order. The Soviet Union joined the declaration on September 24 of that same year. On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 Allied countries endorsed the Atlantic Charter and signed the United Nations Declaration. Welcomed as the idea of creating a new organization was by everyone, however, there still were numerous disagreements regarding its tasks, goals and powers.

At a conference held in Moscow on October 19-30, 1943, the foreign ministers of the USSR, the US and Great Britain (Vyacheslav Molotov, Cordell Hull and Anthony Eden), signed the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security (it was also signed by China’s ambassador to the USSR Fu Bingchang), where the parties pledged to fast-track the creation of an international organization to maintain peace and security. The final agreement on the creation of the United Nations Organization was reached in March 1945 during the Yalta Conference by the leaders of the three Allied Powers – Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

It was established that the UN would be based on the principle of unanimity of the great powers – permanent members of the Security Council with a veto right. Harry Truman, who succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who died in April 1945, was openly critical of the agreement, but during a conference in San Francisco, where Soviet and US representatives locked horns over a number of issues pertaining to the UN Charter, the Soviet position prevailed.  The sides eventually reached a compromise whereby the UN General Assembly could discuss any issues, but did not have the right to take decisions binding on the UN member states.

On June 26, 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to sign the UN Charter. On October 24, 1945, the Soviet Union became the 29th state to have submitted the instrument of ratification, thus securing the necessary number of votes for the Charter’s entry into force. Since 1948, October 24 has been marked as United Nations Day.

The status of the United Nations Organization, paid for by tens of millions of lives perished in World War II, went unquestioned for quite some time, ensuring for more than half a century peace in Europe and a relatively predictable situation globally. Over time, however, even the most durable world order is bound to be put to a test.

At the turn of the 1990s, the bipolar system of international relations and the Cold War were replaced by a new world order based on the political and economic predominance of the United States and its closest allies. By historical standards, however, this period proved pretty short-lived since the world is too complicated to unconditionally kowtow to the principles of the Washington Consensus. By the close of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, new centers of power and integration projects began to emerge, initiated by countries in Eurasia and Latin America.

Serious doubts about the reliability of the existing system of international security appeared already in 1999 with NATO’s enlargement to the east to incorporate Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – the first such process since the end of WW2. In that very same year, the forces of the North Atlantic Alliance, sidestepping the UN Security Council, launched bombing raids against Yugoslavia, thus throwing in question the entire system of post-war treaties. Since then, almost every US-initiated military operation in the world has been conducted illegitimately and classified by the UN Security Council as an act of aggression and condemned by both Russia and China, which insist that any use of force in international relations, be it political, economic or military, should come exclusively as a result of consensus of all members of the Security Council.

The veto right by a permanent member of the Security Council to block any decision, even if it is approved by all other members, remains the backbone of the entire system of international security. Everyone understands this, but not everyone is ready to come to terms with it.

The UN’s presence in the world after the end of the inter-bloc confrontation has significantly increased with its mandate transcending military aspects and now including humanitarian and social issues.

However, the world is facing the growing threat of numerous conflicts flaring up that can’t be resolved without a consensual decision by the key UN member states which, in turn, has proved to be extremely hard to achieve. It’s not just about the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as even the content of international documents is being disputed now. Who would possibly object to the need to combat the activities of terrorist and extremist organizations? And still, practice shows that the term “terrorism” carries a different meaning for European countries and, for example, those in the Middle East. As a result, UN Security Council resolutions on the settlement of contemporary conflicts in this region are actually ignored. Civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well as the extremely difficult situation in Iraq, caused to a large extent by the interference of the United States and its allies, as well as by the activities of network extremists, have added to the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Adding to this is the rising threat posed by drug and cyber terrorism.

With the situation being as it is, the United Nations is facing a growing wave of criticism. The organization has been criticized before – in 1993 the UN mission in Somalia fell though, and in 1994, the UN failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, stop hostilities in Congo and the civil war in the Balkans, which led to an armed intervention by NATO. The actions by representatives of the UN and organizations it helped create in the Middle East often lack their declared impartiality.

While during the Cold War era decision-making mechanisms in the international arena were based on the decisions by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and a raft of arms control treaties, after the period of confrontation ended, so did the period of transparent “rules of the game” in world politics. Moreover, many non-state actors have emerged and now wield serious financial and political influence. Nevertheless, the UN remains the only organization that prevents the existing structure of global security from falling apart in the extremely difficult circumstances of this day and age.

There have been growing demands to bring the UN and its Security Council in line with modern-day realities. During the 75 years of the organization’s existence, the number of its member states has increased from 50 to 193, as have the shortcomings of many of its agencies. Many criticize the UN’s peacekeeping operations as haphazard, extremely selective and prone to double standards. The organization has been repeatedly called out for being in a financial crisis. Many developing countries (states of the “global South”) are trying to limit the veto power enjoyed by the permanent members of the Security Council and are demanding more equitable geographical representation in the Council. Developed countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and India also seek the status of permanent members of the UN Security Council. They propose to expand the Council to 25 members, with two permanent seats reserved for Asia and Africa and one each for Latin America and Western Europe.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump came up with a plan to reform the UN, proposing, among other things, to optimize the organization’s expenses and get more return for every dollar invested in it. Well, by the efficiency of the UN’s work Trump apparently means decisions that would serve America’s best interests.

Washington’s tactic regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program is very indicative here. In 2015, Iran and the 5 + 1 group of states (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as Germany) signed the so-called Iran nuclear deal, according to which Tehran refused to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions. However, in 2018, Washington pulled out of the accord and announced new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On August 20, 2020, the United States sent a letter to the UN Security Council announcing the launch of the so-called sanctions snapback process whereby any signatory to the 2015 deal could re-impose sanctions against Iran if it found that Tehran was not fulfilling its obligations under the agreement. The idea was simple: it was enough to submit a request to the UN Security Council to launch the snapback mechanism to force the Security Council to raise the issue of continued implementation of the entire Iranian nuclear deal. The Americans would then use their veto power and the document would simply cease to exist. This didn’t happen though as all other permanent members of the Security Council ignored the US request. Therefore, following the necessary 30-day pause, on September 21, the US imposed unilateral sanctions against Tehran. A paradoxical situation ensued: de jure, no sanctions exist for most countries, but de facto, Washington feels free to punish anyone who dares to violate these “nonexistent” restrictions and continues to cooperate with Tehran pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2231.

The majority of the permanent members of the Security Council want to more or less keep in place the UN’s current decision-making mechanisms, which give them obvious privileges while simultaneously allowing them to solve the main task the UN was originally created for, i.e. the prevention of major wars between great powers. Besides, no comprehensive reform of the organization appears likely since there are no criteria all member countries would agree with. Therefore, despite all the critical barbs, the organization will continue in its classical form, at least for now. Meanwhile, the world finds itself in a state of complete uncertainty caught between the remaining fragments of a failed attempt to build a unipolar system and institutions inherited from the second half of the 20th century.

Russia’s position on the UN reform remains fairly balanced. Moscow believes that changes should not affect two key provisions – the approval of the proposed plan by the overwhelming majority of the participating countries, and the preservation of the Security Council’s prerogatives, including the right of veto.

Russia stands for the development of the UN’s peacekeeping potential, which it believes is not fully in line with the tasks currently facing the organization, and for wider cross-border social and humanitarian cooperation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The way out of the socio-economic crisis caused by this epidemic will be long and extremely difficult, therefore it is imperative to stop dividing countries into “us” and “them,” and start developing all the necessary mechanisms of cooperation. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined these priorities in his speech at the 75th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly on behalf of the CSTO member states.

“The fate of the United Nations is in the hands of its member states. Just like in 1945, we need to cast aside our differences and come together for the sake of delivering on common objectives, based on equitable dialogue and mutual respect for one another’s interests. The UN offers all the necessary conditions to this effect,” Lavrov emphasized.

From our partner International Affairs

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International Law

Act realistically in the age of realism

Samudrala VK

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To understand the geo-politics of the world in a simpler or lucid way, there is a law, not in Political science but Physics, which helps even a naiver to get a clear picture of this complex whole, provided that he/she has a  basic level knowledge in the latter discipline. In the age of realism, every nation tries to gain a comparative advantage over its adversaries in political, economical, technological and cultural spheres. To make it more understandable, lets assume that there are two countries, A and B. If A has 20 weapons in its military basket, then B fights tooth and nail to get more than what A possess. As a result, If A attacks B, B would be in a position to retaliate. Thus, If A initiates action, correspondingly B reacts and vice versa. Thus, The great game of geo-politics is characterized by a series of actions and reactions. If B fails to attain the capabilities that are more or equivalent to A to strike back then B looks at another player(c) in order to checkmate A. Many a group around the world has formed based on military, ideological, religious, cultural and political factors. In this case, groups rather than individual players resort to tit for tat.Yes, It is Newton’s third law of motion. Known for its ubiquitous and all-pervasive applicability, Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law can be applied to global politics too.Driven by avarice, superiority and insecurity, this confrontation between and among the players is perpetual as long as the international system is centered on nation-state concept.

Given the recent political developments, Eurasia, especially the West Asia, has become a new theatre for this hegemonic kerfuffle. As the geo-political game in the West Asia, a resource rich region, is reaching inexorably new heights, the powerful players in and outside the region are bidding to secure their interests. The political imbroglio between Iran, a regional power and the US, a de facto superpower, has been spinning out of control.

The US strategy of blocking Iran’s economic lifeline through the imposition of harsh penalities has gone haywire instead of bringing Tehran to its knees. Although,the Iranian economy is down at the heels, thanks to the “maximum pressure” policy of POTUS, Tehran’s intransigent approach seems to be a shock to the US.Iran is weathering the storm successfully and has been trying to bring anti-US forces on its side. The assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack in the month of January this year by the US was the last straw and had forced Tehran to come out more openly to get even with the US.

The US foreign policy, under Donald Trump’s leadership, is loaded with megalomania and vulpine motives which has proven disastrous not only to its allies but also for the interests of US itself.The unilateral exit from the JCPOA(Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)is an egregious error on the part of US when other parties to the deal are satisfied with the progress being made by Iran with regard to its commitments under the JCPOA.As long as its nuclear installations are open to inspections of the IAEA(International Atomic Energy Agency) and the nuclear stockpile is well within limits, it is preposterous to assume that Iran is misleading the world.The US administration has been admonishing UNSC members for acting too lenient and defying its call to reinstate the sanctions on Tehran of pre-2015 JCPOA level.Recently, the US has faced a humiliating defeat at the UN following its proposal to extend arms embargo on Iran which has failed to secure enough numbers. Dissension over the question of Iran in the UNSC has flummoxed the US administration, especially when its European allies have turned a deaf ear to Donald Trump’s warnings to extend arms embargo on Tehran.

The proposed 25-year strategic pact between Iran and China, which reflects the growing convergence of the interests between the duo, is an epitome of Tehran’s anti-American stance. Thus, the deal is a win-win situation for both players as Iran is yearning to relieve its economy which is reeling under the decades-long sanction regime and is in search of reliable market to its oil and gas exports. China, the world’s largest crude oil importer, is looking forward to diversify its energy basket rather than depending on Saudi Arabia, a largest crude oil supplier to China. Being an all-weather friend of the US, Saudi Arabia might stop its supplies to Beijing if contention between Washington and Beijing goes beyond trade and commerce.

It is important to mention that Iran got a second wind in the form of China’s $400 billion investment plan which covers economical, infrastructural and technological aspects, not to mention military.Beijing’s bear hug with Tehran cannot be seen solely as a bilateral affair but a larger manifestation of unfolding Moscow-Tehran-Beijing nexus. Apart from the strong aversion towards the west global order, the trio also have commonalities with regard to regional security and stability. Beijing has been trying to engage with anti-American players across the Eurasia as part of its BRI( Belt and Road Initiative).

Many nations in Asia and Africa have been struggling on shoestring budgets. Therefore, in order to meet the growing demand for infrastructural needs there is no way other than cuddling a generous partner who can lend the wherewithal and provide technological know-how on liberal terms.As a result,these countries jumped on the bandwagon i.e., BRI. China, with its economic clout, has a desire to capitalize on resources of these nations.The wide spread concern over the lack of transparency, environmental degradation and sovereignty in the BRI is construed by these players as a ploy by the US to derail their economic progress.

Japan is trying to catch up with China by unveiling similar sort of programmes like Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure to meet infrastructural needs in Asia and Africa.In addition, Blue-Dot network(BDN), a joint initiative of the US, Australia and Japan, is being perceived as a counter to BRI.BDN is a rating agency, rather than a lending body on the lines of BRI, which certifies infrastructural projects based on financial feasibility, quality, environmental aspects and sustainability. A project which receives nod from BDN would be deemed as economically sustainable which would attract private players to invest ,thereby propelling economic growth. The quality component, which BRI has neglected so far, has occupied prominent place in this trilateral initiative. It remains to be seen whether the standards and practices set by BDN will be accepted as global standards by other countries especially Russia and China.


Following China’s cheque book diplomacy in order to placate nations across the Eurasia  could cost these BDN players an arm and a leg.The US has been impelling other players like India to join the BDN bandwagon, given the latter’s animosity with China.

India’s outlook towards Iran is futile and unclear.In addition to the growing appetite for oil, the crucial component of its energy security, and given the high stakes involved in the region, India need to design an independent and pragamtic policy in dealing with Tehran rather than kowtowing to the diktats of the US.

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