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

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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

OTT broadcast and its censorship: Whether a violation of freedom of speech and expression

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The whole world, owing to coronavirus pandemic, is enveloped in the darkness. It has wreaked havoc on almost all the aspect of human lives. The educational institutions, theaters and cinemas all have been shuttered. Public gatherings, to maintain the social distancing, have been firmly discouraged. Further, the pandemic has significantly modified the media and entertainment consumption patterns. Social lives ventured into digital environment as a result of people being cramped to their homes. People have switched to several sources of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes and over-the-top (“OTT”) platforms have proven to be a major source of entertainment.

OTT platforms have grown exponentially and taken over the industry. OTT platforms expedites streaming of video content over the web. Several OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, etc., have primarily ousted the traditional television service. The notification issued by the Central Government of India aimed at getting online media platforms and content on OTT platforms within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been making the rounds in recent times. The cabinet Secretariat, on November 9, 2020, released a notification amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. It has incorporated two new entries to the second schedule of the Rules namely Films and Audio-visual programmes provided by online service provider as well as News and Current Affairs. This action is attributed to the fact that there is large amount of an unrestricted content available on the web as well as lack of an adequate regulatory regime in place to protect its users.

Universal self-Regulation code

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a Universal self-Regulation code (code) to administer the content available on OTT platforms. The code was primarily adopted by the fifteen OTT platforms namely zee 5, Viacom 18, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree. SonyLIV and Lionsgate too have recently signed the code. It was manifestly stated in the code that The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) is the main governing framework when it comes to online content. The values enshrined in Article 19 of India’s Constitution, namely the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, direct the internet and material on the internet. A policy for the digital content sector has to be drafted in line with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any constraints on the aforesaid right should be fall within the purview of constitutional restrictions set forth in Article 19(2) of the India’s Constitution.

Further, the code had delineated a mechanism pertaining to (i) Age Classification (the code had particularized the certain categories for standardized age classification namely All ages, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+) (ii) Appropriate content specification ( a content descriptor appropriate to each piece of content that demonstrates and tells the viewer about the essence of the content while also advising on viewer discretion) and (iii) Access control Tools( to regulate access to content, signatories to the Code may implement technological tools and measures for access control i.e. PIN/Password.) The code had also established the perspicuous grievance redressal and escalation process to lodge complaint regarding non-adherence to specified guidelines. The MIB, however, has repudiated the proposed code since it did not explicitly categorize the prohibited content. Further, there is no independent third-party oversight and a transparent code of ethics. The MIB instructed IAMAI to seek guidance from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) self-regulatory frameworks.

A public interest litigation was consolidated in October, 2018, before the hon’ble Delhi High court by Justice For Rights Foundation to draught certain guidelines for modulating the content available on OTT platforms. The MIB while filing the counter affidavit stated that digital platforms are not required to procure a license from them to exhibit their content and the same is not controlled by them. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has also mentioned that they do not oversee internet content and there exists no mechanism for monitoring or licensing an agency or establishment that posts content on the internet. Nevertheless, it was claimed that the provisions concerning IT are applicable, and concerned legislative authority having jurisdiction under the aforesaid Act is authorized to take action using the power granted to them under section 69 of the Act which involves directives for interception, surveillance, or data encryption. Further, under Section 67 of the Act there are penalties pertaining to posting or disseminating obscene information in any digital form. Accordingly, the court while dismissing the petition opined that it cannot grant a mandamus for the creation of regulations when the IT Act already contains stringent restrictions and currently the foregoing petition is pending in the hon’ble supreme court.

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

A film must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before it can be displayed or distributed in cinemas or on satellite, and the content is constrained by existing laws. The CBFC was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. When it was established, it was designated as the Board of Film Censors. It was amended in 1959 to give it the authority to certify a picture for mass consumption. The Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994 are among the laws that govern the industry. However, there is no such particular legislation for regulating material on OTT platforms. The government by virtue of Article 19(2) of Indian constitution can impose restrictions on freedom of speech and expressions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality and so on. Consequently, broadcasted content has often been a restricted matter. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another[1], the constitutionality of censorship was initially challenged. The hon’ble supreme court has upheld the constitutionality of censorship under Article 19(2) of the India’s constitution and stated that films must be viewed differently from any kind of art and expressions because a motion picture can elicit more intense emotional response than any other product of Art. However, such censorship should not be exercised to imposed an undue restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

The constitutionality of censorship was also disputed in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [2]wherein the hon’ble supreme court has held that the board’s criterion for appraising the films must be that of an ordinary man with common sense and wisdom rather than that of a hypersensitive mind. The Moral values ought not to be compromised in the realm of any social change. The concept of “Dharam” should not be disrupted by the immoral norms or standards. However, it does not suggest that censors must embrace a conservative perspective. They should be resilient to social change and go with the topical environment. The film is the most legitimate and significant medium for addressing topics of public concern. The producer has the right to broadcast his own message, which others may or may not concur with. The state, regardless of how hostile to its policies, cannot suppress open debate and expression. The democracy is basically a government by the people based on open debate. The democratic form of administration necessitates citizens’ active and informed engagement in the societal issue.

Furthermore in, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification[3], it was said that we are governed in a democratic manner. We can’t expect everyone’s head and intellect to be the same in a democracy. Freedom to think and act in a different way is at the heart of democracy. The beauty of democracy is the diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and manifestations. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to exhibit themselves in the same way. In the film business, new blood is being infused. This new blood is revved up and eager to get their feet wet in the industry. The film business and the general public have embraced such new blood. Their effort has been recognized and praised by the government. These works are predicated on a certain way of thinking that is unique to them. They have their own opinions and ideas on how the film business should operate, as well as how the medium altogether must be managed. Profanity, obscenity, and depravity do not shock human emotions. Such situations and discussions must be seen in their entirety. The narrative must be perused in its totality and thought upon. It is not appropriate to choose a few phrases, lines, conversations, or situations and venture into the board’s resolution. Certainly, the state, and notably the Central Board of Film Certification, cannot attempt to sculpt and dominate public opinion under the guise of purported public interest or audience preference. That would be terrible, as it would hit at the heart of democracy and civil liberty, which are held in such high regard by everybody. The goals of film certification, consequently, cannot be achieved by disregarding the Constitutionally guaranteed right or by fully undermining and disappointing it. A movie has to be watched on its own and judged accordingly. The plot, subject, background, and location in which it is created, the message it aims to express, and the entertainment, among other things, would all have to be assessed using section 5B’s standards.

Should OTT platforms be governed by a code of self-regulation?

Self-regulation is presently the only option available to such platforms in order to maintain the ability to broadcast material without undue censorship. Because unreasonable restriction would impede the creative flexibility of OTT platforms. It will assist platforms in conducting themselves in an ethical and fair manner while also safeguarding the interests of their users. It would protect content producers’ artistic freedom by promoting creativity and upholding an individual’s right to free speech and expression. The general public desires to view the content in its original and untainted state. They strive to understand artwork in its most primitive sense. The fundamental role of government agency is to maintain the fair field, not to inhibit innovation and ingenuity by placing limitations in a tech industry.

Self-regulators’ competence allows them to adjust their regulations more quickly than government agencies in reaction to technological advancement. More significantly, independent of any technological change, the self-regulator is better equipped to decide when a rule should be modified to improve compliance. Self-regulation has the ability to make compliance more appealing. It develops regulations based on an expert’s level of understanding, customized to the specific sector. These rules are viewed by regulated entities as more “reasonable” from the inception owing to their involvement[4].

Conclusion

The MIB by virtue of the amendment has now can regulate and draught policies regarding digital media and online streaming on OTT platforms. However, such governmental intervention can considerably jeopardize the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The suppression of freedom of speech and expression is what censorships is all about. The freedom of speech and expression suggests that right to manifest one’s thought via words of mouth, writing, picture and any other means. The freedom of speech is one of the most well-known and fiercely protected civil rights against government encroachment. In modern democratic societies, it is generally considered as an essential notion. Every citizen of a democratic nation has the freedom to express his or her opinions on various issues. Thousands of viewpoints are disseminated around the country via various channels. A film director has the freedom to manifest himself and gives effect to his thoughts, even though others may not concur with him. An exhibition of films as well as documentaries cannot be prohibited for purely speculative reasons since prohibiting motion pictures is tantamount to suppressing the right to freedom of expression and speech. Restrictions upon Individual’s freedom of speech and expression must only be permitted if they are required to avert severe harm from being perpetrated. It is critical to have a healthy and extensive amount of free expression in order to assert a thriving and well- functioning democracy. Democracy, otherwise, is obsolete and akin to a totalitarian dictatorship[5]. It should be up to the public to determine what they want to see and what they don’t want to watch. Thus, the cornerstone to safeguarding artistic freedom is a sustainable self-governance paradigm.


[1] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780

[2] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 S.C.C. 574

[3] Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification 2016 S.C.C. online Bom 3862: (2016) 4 AIR Bom R 593: AIR 2017 (NOC 62) 29

[4] Id. at 13

[5] Subhradipta Sarkar, RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN A CENSORED DEMOCRACY, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER SPORTS

 AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW JOURNAL 62, 84 ,89 (2009)

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall of Kabul, and the evasion of President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has taken over the reins of Afghanistan. States like Pakistan and China have already expressed their willingness to “work with the Taliban”  thereby legitimizing the Taliban government, whereas India has refused to recognize this “reign of terror”. The jurisprudential question of legitimacy arises here because the transfer of power in Afghanistan was through a coup d’etat which constitutes an extra-constitutional means of formation of government. Governments desire legitimacy because it gives them the right to rule and an acceptance on the international and domestic levels.

The most accepted theory in this regard is Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law. Kelsen, a positivist, claimed that law was contaminated by sociological impurities and morality, and focussed his theory on law alone. He based the legitimacy of the new order of government on its efficacy, and a rule was said to be efficacious when individuals regulated by it “behave, by and large, in conformity” with it. When the new order was efficacious, the coup was said to be successful, and the new government was held to be a legitimate one. Kelsen’s theory was widely accepted to uphold governments after coups such as in The State v. Dosso (Pakistan; 1958), Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (Southern Rhodesia; 1968), and Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (Uganda; 1966), among others. Since Kelsen tries to purify laws from the socio-political aspects, he contends that that it is irrelevant why people comply with the law and it could even be out of pure fear. Thus, a rogue government such as the Taliban which is efficacious as it receives compliance out of coercion and not out of consent, would be a legitimate one from a Kelsenian perspective.

The primary criticism that arises to Kelsen’s separability thesis is that he fails to distinguish between validity of law and its legitimacy. Critics have argued that while validity of law concerns with its authoritativeness, legitimacy depends on the virtue of justness and is contingent upon socio-political and moral factors. The issue lies with attaching legitimacy to the performance of the government. Instead, legitimacy should involve the questions of whether the government has the ability to demand the obligations out of voluntary conviction, provide for public goods such as the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, etc., and function in a manner such that the society is generally benefitted. A study on legitimacy in seventy-two countries concludes that more the citizens are treated as rightful holders of political power, more legitimacy the government derives. This means that the virtue of legitimacy must flow from the citizens and the society and not from a coercive power that the top-down approach provides.

In the light of this, when the Taliban government is examined, it is realised that with its extremist ideology and terror activities in the past, it can hardly fulfil this criteria.While the ‘good Taliban’ has claimed that it will protect the freedom of press and not discriminate against women while allowing for their participation in the society within framework of Islamic law, these assurances will pacify only those who are unfamiliar with its history. Under the rule of Taliban in the years between 1996 and 2001, human rights were suspended, and political killings, rape, torture, amputation, and public executions were common place. A Taliban 2.0 which has emerged victorious against one of the major superpowers of the world, and has external support is unlikely to reform. Ideologically, they still remain the same movement committed to a puritan interpretation of Islam and this is evidenced by the fact that the barbaric Sharia law is in place once again. These baseless claims should be perceived as a political strategy to appease states into granting them de jure legitimacy because despite the jurisprudence of legitimacy developed, there is nothing in the international law that bars states like China, Russia, Pakistan or others from recognizing the rogue state of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan rests in the interplay of international actors.

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International Law

Artificial Intelligence and International Refugee Law

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Refugee rights are cosmological, binding, blended, co-dependent, and interconnected and constitute the basic structure of international custom [BASIC] encapsulating the national jurisdictions across the world. BASIC thrives on dignity; therefore, the word “refugee rights” can be delineated and defined in a single word–as per my understanding–called “dignity,” as it is the issue of human dignity that we address in refugee rights. Therefore, refugee rights mean dignity, but the same has been further convoluted with the ascendance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has presented new challenges to human equality in all walks of life. AI has reduced humanity in algorithmic calculations contrary to global human rights norms. AI does not recognize the significance of humanitarianism in its current form. It has envisioned a world of dynamic numerals that do not protect humanity and mitigate human sufferings in the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures.  Algorithmic humanitarianism is an idea suffering from the mechanical, technocratic, and scientific acclimatization of human existence devoid of ethics, justice, and morality. Machine-controlled calculations exclusively adjudicate the RSD procedures and immigration decisions. But the application of AI has also raised a host of issues relating to the data privacy, confidentiality, and use and misuse of data information collected by the governments, organizations, RSD officials, and immigration authorities from the refugees and asylum-seekers migrants, and stateless (RAMS). Such data may be exploited, employed, and maneuvered for geostrategic, geopolitical, geo-engineering, medico-research, socio-economic, and demographical purposes by the global, regional, and domestic institutions and governments. In human rights protection, refugee rights, and immigration decisions, AI has been adversely impacting RSD procedures and immigration judgments across the world.

Algorithmic Humanitarianism

Therefore, algorithmic humanitarianism has presented a compendium of questions than answers. Hence, AI lacks anthropogenic sensitivity, critical thinking, human subjectivity, and objectivity thresholds needed to appreciate the degrees of persecution and discrimination in RSD procedures and immigration decisions in violation of global human rights norms of refugee protection. Thus, there is a need to rummage and ruminate upon these issues by examining AI’s application and assessing the impact thereof on the global human rights norms that sustain humanity and make human existence humane beyond the insight of algorithmic intelligence and discernment. There has to be a human-centric primacy of AI application while positioning refugee equalizers in the ADM Technologies Framework (ATF) for RSD Procedures viz-a-viz international human rights law (IHRL) challenges with the human rights-based approach (HRBA). Further, the equality framework of AI must constitute and advocate that algorithmic humanitarianism must be reprogrammed with new AI technologies impregnated with global human rights norms for sustainable artificial intelligence.

Peremptory acceptance of AI technologies and greater dependence upon AI by both national governments and the private sector and actors have led to growing apprehension regarding the potential adverse repercussions for the core principles of democratic societies like human dignity in diversity, ethical governance, democratic transparency, multicultural accountability, and pluralistic inclusivism. Therefore, there is an indispensable requirement for a framework of global governance to address the full range of societal challenges concomitant with AI inter-alia intimidations to the right to privacy, the right to access to information, the right to equal protection of the law, and the right to non-discrimination during immigration and repositioning of refugees consistent with the existing global human rights framework. Because the emergence of AI is a reality and it has penetrated in the universal institutional life of nation-states, also providing an opportunity for the human mind to utilize it in a manner that conforms and complements global human rights norms while taking into account the Limits of AI Reception, Laxities of AI Recantation, & Luxuries of AI Repercussion.  In the future, artificial intelligence technologies might well substitute humans in the workplace altogether. But at least for the foreseeable future, businesses will derive far more value using AI to augment and enhance existing capabilities than automate away human jobs. All nation-states should establish an independent, empowered body to address all aspects of management and review for all types of ADM technologies employed by the national governments worldwide and put all existing and future AI models in the public domain for their scrutiny.

AI and Refugee Rights Equalizers

The free expression of ideas and opinions, freedom of association, the right to privacy and the right to access to information are digital equalizers for refugee rights in an age of AI propounded and protected within the ambit of IHRL framework such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-1966 (ICCPR), UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights-1966 (ICESCR) along with Sub-international Human Rights instruments like AU’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. But, unfortunately, these rights have become the pawns of online state surveillance and transgressions facilitated by the gigantic deployment of AI technologies. States have been using AI software against refugee rights defenders, peace activists, human rights journalists, civil society advocates, etc. The speed of technological development empowers individuals globally to utilize novel models of information and communication technologies to elevate the capability of governance structures, commercial establishments and civil society individuals to embark on data surveillance, collection, and an interception. Such steps in a digital age allow the circumvention and abuse of human rights enunciated in Article 12 of the UDHR and Article 17 of the ICCPR that have put a question mark on the future of the right to privacy of individuals, the rights of women, the rights of children, and the rights RAMS.

Moreover, the digital rights and the right to privacy prompted by AI technologies application become more sensitive in the case of the RAMS, particularly if the impact of AI might lead to the detention and deportation of RAMS to their homelands which might put their life at persecution. AI technologies have posed legal, ethical, and social implications for the international community of nation-states to deliberate upon positioning the potential refugee equalizers in the ADM technologies framework for RSD procedures. However, the impact of AI on RAMS and protection regime underscores the risks that AI, algorithms, machine learning, and related technologies may pose to the rights of RAMS, also acknowledging the openings AI technologies offer to augment the accessibility of the rights envisioned in the UDHR and UNCSR. But few questions remain to be answered: What are the positive and negative impacts, risks, and threats of AI technologies for RAMS and their protection rights? What is the legal framework that guarantees RAMS to have access to the Internet and Digital Rights? How does the current legal framework protect the rights of RAMS to access the Internet and their online privacy rights? How can AI enhance the welfare of the RAMS? How could AI make sure RAMS’ access to education? How could AI ethics and policies protect and accommodate RAMS’ rights and mitigate the risks they might face? And what are the predicaments that AI could be abused to circumvent internationally granted rights of RAMS?

The geopolitical ramifications make the challenges associated with Internet sensitive that paved the way for enhanced censorship on social media and other OTT platforms. By banning the websites or resorting to state censorship, the biggest casualty is free speech and privacy. Under such state censorship, online human rights defenders face prosecution and endure persecution at the same time. Unfortunately, IRL instruments do not envisage any reference to the digital or information rights of refugees. However, AI has massive potential to uphold and promote the rights of RAMS; conversely, it can also suppress them. For example, facial recognition technology can be impregnated with AI software to pinpoint and target the RAMS who challenge the repressive asylum regime in host countries and oppose the regime in their countries of origin. AI prognostic propensities might be subject RAMS to arbitrary detention and deportation.

IHRL Obligations

All nation-states must create a special task force (STF) to convene and assemble all ADM scientists & developers, national policy-makers, crucial stakeholders, prominent civil society institutions, educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations to adequately appreciate the actual and potential impacts of ADM technologies on global human right norms. Such steps would lay down the foundations for ethical, moral, and value-oriented dimensions to AI and its application while preserving human rights in RSD and immigration decisions. International refugee law and immigration is a realistic prism that provides a methodology to assess state practices, border control security apparatus and checking measures, global migration governance regime, worldwide criminalization of migration, and surging xenophobia. The RSD and immigration law operate at the intersection of municipal and international law and ensnares global human rights norms and international law. In Genesis, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and overall the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”  Therefore, in the current world order, nation-states have a constitutional scheme to respect international human rights obligations, internet governance with algorithmic transparency in the wake of invoking ADM technologies and their utilization.

ADM Companies and Beyond

Thus, most ADM companies contend with working independently without coordination and collaboration of their initiatives and productivities. It is incumbent upon the UN to lead and bring these companies to one platform while calibrating and coordinating their endeavours in confronting the challenges posed by AI governance. These ADM technology companies must work collectively to ensure that human rights are firmly entrenched in developing, designing, and deploying AI systems worldwide. As ADM technologies evolve and develop, innovative AI governance models have also become crucial for centrally positioning human rights obligations in the AI governance’s operational trajectory. However, it is aptly impressive that all stakeholders and parties privy to the development, employment, and management of ADM technologies must have holistic and critical scrutiny of the actual impacts of AI application and its implications and repercussions on humanity.

Besides regulation, public procurement and standardization should also include human rights principles and rules, thus shaping AI’s future. Public bodies and authorities should require that suppliers respect human rights while designing, developing, and deploying AI technologies that they intend to supply. Finally, AI protocols should be based on technical standards incorporating human rights rules and principles. These standards should be set forth by a collective body with global reach and representing the different sectors of society, including industry, states, civil society, international organizations, and academia.

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