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Refugee Trepidations: Protection Palisades and How to throw down the Gauntlet

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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The moniker “refugee” is identified by the academics, aid agents, media persons, governance architects, political establishments from multiple perspectives regarding their protection, rights, and responsibilities. Today, refugees depict the global landscapes with conflict and divergence of assessments that invigorate the global normative debate on the protection, resettlement, reintegration, and management of the 65.6 million of refugees worldwide. The refugee problem is convoluted, and refugee groups and stakeholders create difficulties in addressing global canvas of refugee issues. There are few questions to attend the refugee concern such as who is a refugee in the present circumstances and what are the most critical issues before the refugee communities and institutions entrusted with their protection, collaboration, and interaction? I will try to address this miasma by concentrating on the legal definitions of the term “refugee” and what are the categories of displaced people included and nature of issues attended by the impugned definition.

The Contours of Refugee Definition?

There are two scenarios to appreciate and understand the legal definitions, one is of refugees who have been grappling with the problems of multidimensional implications and second is of nation-states and institutions who have been striving hard to protect the refugees. These definitions govern the standard of qualification where under legal and physical protections are made available to the refugees fleeing from the well-founded fear of persecution and conflict. The principal definition of a refugee has been provided in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UNCSR) and its 1967 Additional Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (APSR) that delineates a refugee as an individual or a person “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted due to the reasons of religion, race, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, nationality is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or — unwilling to make available to himself or herself of the protection of that country.”It is evident from the above statutory definition that it does not cover the refugee situations of mass exoduses from war.

However, the Organization of African Unity has developed refugee protection arrangement at regional level by concluding and adopting the 1969 OAU Convention where under the definition of refugees has been broadened that include group of people and individuals who face persecution as well as every individual who, “owing to foreign domination, occupation, external aggression, or events seriously disturbing the public order…is compelled to leave…to seek refuge or reception in another place outside his country of origin or nationality.”However, OAU refugee definition must be treated as an element of complementarity to the UNCSR refugee definition. At international level, the instruments such as UNCSR and APSR have been recognized as the subject-matter of International Refugee Law (IRL) along with the relevant provisions of a vast pool of instruments of International Human Rights (IHRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Customary International Law (CIL) and International Criminal Law (ICL).

In 1984, Latin American states adopted the Cartagena Declaration on Refugee (CDR) where under a new ground “massive human rights violations” was added to the grounds of refugee qualifications at the Colloquium on “the International Protection of the Refugees in Latin America”, Panama, and Mexico, held at Cartagena, Colombia on 19-22 November 1984.Latin America widened the refugee definition and proposed new approaches to the humanitarian needs of refugees and displaced persons in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. However, the CDR is a non-binding agreement, but it carries collective ethical and moral commitments beyond Latin America. The 30th anniversary of the CDR was commemorated in Brasilia on 2-3 December 2014 when governments of Latin America and the Caribbean assembled and 28 countries and three territories of the Latin America region and the Caribbean adopted the Brazil Declaration known as “A Framework for Cooperation and the Regional Solidarity to Strengthen the International Protection of Refugees, Displaced and Stateless Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean” and a Plan of Action called “A Common Roadmap to Strengthen the Protection and Promote the Sustainable Solutions for Refugees, Displaced and the Stateless Persons in the Latin America and the Caribbean within a Framework of Cooperation and the Solidarity.”Therefore, the people or group of persons crisscrossing international borders to escape civil strife, conflict or war have also been recognized as refugees on the prima facie basis in Africa and Latin America as well as Asia and Middle Eastern region. The Poverty-stricken countries in the region prefer the expanded refugee definition as they do not have the proper administrative wherewithal to determine the refugee status. Among the Global North countries, the mass exoduses are not automatically recognized as refugees rather they are subjected to the “individual refugee status determination” procedure under the restricted refugee definition of UNCSR.

Definitional Dynamics and Delineation

The international definition of the term “refugee” is constricted and restricted,but its dynamics are susceptible to much delineation that is rudimentary as well as fragmentary and cannot be applied to all situations of human displacement and migration and refugee groups and refugee exoduses. These situations may have profound ramifications for the entire gamut of refugee entitlements from migration, transition,and destination based on their endurance and existence. The expression “refugee-like situations” is used to portray people such as Biharis in Bangladesh, Burmese in Thailand and Malaysia, Bedouin in Kuwait and Iraq who are stateless and deprived of the national protection of their countries of origin, countries of nationality and countries of habitual residence but they have not been recognized as refugees under the IRL. Therefore, the situation of refugees in the age of Securitization and Restrictionism of Asylum has become extremely precarious,and 1954 and 1961 UN Conventions on Statelessness and Reduction of Statelessness respectively have done a fraction of service under the auspices of the UNHCR in assuaging their predicament. Further, the phrase “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) refers to people who move or migrate due to the same reasons as refugees within their homelands,and they do not cross international borders. There is no international body specially empowered to look after the IDPs, but the UNHCR can take their responsibility upon the request of a national government and the UNHCR designate them as “People of Concern to UNHCR” but national governments generally do not invite the good offices of the UNHCR or other agencies in the name of sovereignty, homeland security, and terrorism.

The international legal definition of expression “refugee” also makes an exclusion of those people who do not flee or move due to persecution but they migrate due to climate change-linked human displacement in the forms of droughts, famine, floods, earthquakes, environmental degradation, global warming, depletion of ozone layer, erosion of landmass of littoral areas, and soaring of sea-level. It is a fact that such a new class of people now called “forced migrants,” “forced displaced peoples,” “climate migrants,”or “climate refugees” who desperately require international protection and humanitarian assistance. Similarly, the catchphrase “refugee” also rejects people who move due to economic considerations owing to economic apartheid based nationalism, economic boycott based on communalism, economic ostracism based on casteism, economic immigration based on political liberalism and extreme poverty and such peoples are branded “economic migrants.” Another group of people is “asylum seekers” who migrate as consequences of political opinions, and offenses and diplomatic omissions. They get refugee status provided their claims are adjudicated upon by the IRL.

Persecution Narratives

The refugees flee, leave, move or migrate from their homelands due to the persecution that is a central ground for their protection, recognition,and reception as refugees in the land of asylum. However, there is a debate in the juridical domain as to what signifies and frames the “persecution” as some stakeholders catechize should persecution be state-sponsored, state-patronized or state-linked and riveted upon individuals, or should pervasive practices, audacious attitudes and autochthonic approaches in the society meet the requirements for persecution. Even there are plenty of arguments that gyrate around as to what are the contours of human rights abuses and cultural practice and common tradition. These questions crop up in gender- connected instances; i.e., many countries in Afro-Asia regions practice female genital mutilation (FGM), Taliban regime has thwarted girl education that too against Islamic tenets, prohibited the sexual orientation predilections of Afghan men and women, Iran handed down severe punishments to gays and lesbians and sent them to gallows and it is an offence to talk of LGBTQ rights in many countries. Nevertheless, there are many critical issues of the international forced migration studies that have not been ruminated according to a gendered perspective, and in turn, many crucial topics for gender-linked have been neglected when studying migrants and mobile people while answering a pertinent question as to how marital status, age, and ethnicity shaped migration and settlement patterns in specific economic, cultural and political contexts.There has to be a more razor-sharp dialogue between migration studies and gender studies while taking into account the fact that male and female roles were, and are, the result of social, cultural and economic construction from the late Middle Ages to the early 21stcentury.Therefore, gender-related aspects and dynamics have shaped the grounds for granting asylum and refugee status to persons, of course, on a case-by-case consideration. In many countries, religious, racial, linguistic, coloured and cultural minorities are subjected to persecution in violation of IHRL, IHL, IRL, CIL,and ICL,etc. However, international understanding and consensus are conspicuously absent on the global norms and human rights standards in this regard.

Global Trepidations

The national governments and international organizations and bodies are significantly engrossed to formulate international policy framework to address the refugee issues and population mobility. Refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs perceive legal protection as the principle and most enduring global issue. The responsibility to protect (R2P)is based on the principle of sovereignty where under nation-states have the primary obligation to protect their citizens and subjects against all hostile circumstances. But, unfortunately, modern nation-states are flagrantly recalcitrant to perform their international human rights obligations. These legal protection obligations are embedded in the concept of sovereignty, and the international community is equally obligated to maintain international peace and security under Article 24 of the UN Charter. Moreover, there are umpteen and specific international legal arrangements, covenants, charters, pacts, treaties and declarations relating to IRL, IHRL, IHL, CIL, ICL and municipal law to protect the human rights of all across the world. Even the legal protection of refugees is central to the mandate of the UNHCR while taking into account all policy matters of refugee protection backed by the UN Commission on Sovereignty and Intervention. However, there are many issues involved in the R2P such as at what stage does international community decides the international invention to protect the refugees? What should be a threshold of military intervention and its legal justification? There have been instances of international intervention like the Gulf War (1991-1992), Somalia (1992-1993), Bosnia Herzegovina (1995) and Kosovo (1999) whereas international intervention was not invoked in Rwanda (1994). However, currently, there is as many as 110,000 UN Peacekeeping field personnel including military, police, and civilians and 14 UN peacekeeping missions are active across the four continents. In past 70 years, more than 1 million men and women have served 70 UN peacekeeping operations. Therefore, nation-states must follow the R2P Covenant in the situations of ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, rape, murder, and massive violations of human rights and beyond.

International humanitarian assistance organizations have been in Catch-22 situation that requires as to how best extending assistance and protection during conflicts. There are challenges when humanitarian assistance, UNHCR officials, and NGO staff per se become the target of combatant parties. Therefore, international humanitarian agencies confront incredibly hostile scenarios that pose pertinent questions like do these humanitarian agencies require military intervention for the security of UNHCR officials, NGO staff, and assistance operations? Should these agencies circumvent the principles of neutrality and impartiality while performing their works? Should these agencies prefer to remove the people from conflict zones as a solution? Are there options before the humanitarian agencies to prefer withdrawal from the zones of hostilities while maintaining the equilibrium in their responsibilities to protect refugees, displaced people and the workforce? These challenges require a reliable solution at the anvil of human rights.

There is another dimension to the current discourse on the lego-institutional response of the aid agencies during population migration, protection in the refugee camps and treatment of combatants, military deserters and war criminals. Under international law, refugee camp communities and voluntarily migrant populations are often considered vulnerable civilian targets, but people are privy to military engagement are excluded from refugee status and benefits incidental there under. However, there are sizable armed combatants engaged with opposition armed forces in their country of origin whom I address as “refugee crusaders” who have been witnessed fighting in their homelands or lands of their reception particularly the Rwandans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo aided and supported by other countries and Afghan Mujahedeen in Pakistan who were aided and armed by the Pakistan, US, Saudi Arabia, and the China to fight and flush out the Soviet military from Afghanistan.

Burden-Sharing v. Shared-Responsibility

The international community is also confronted with another prominent dimension of refugee exoduses into the adjacent countries. The “Global North” countries do not approve of the comprehensive regional refugee definitions contained in the 1969 OAU Convention and 1984 Cartagena Declaration where under mass exodus of refugees have been recognized. But the disdaining the idea of R2P, contempt for humanitarian sensitivities, municipal lego-institutional political ramifications, entreating for systematic population migration, unwillingness of the neighboring nation-states to host the mass influxes of refugees and disregard for the concept of global refugee shared-responsibility(GRSR) have paved the way for temporary refugee protection (TRP) programmes where under temporary refugee status (TRS) is granted in the Global North countries, and it is called “B-status” or “Extended Leave to Remain” in Europe. These TRP programmes have the provisions to grant “temporary residence permits” to people in flight sans the full implementation of the 1951 UNCSR norms on refugee status and IHRL standards. For examples, the Bosnians and Kosovars in Western Europe and Salvadorans in the US were granted TRS. However, the principle of TRP is circumscribed by a vortex of complications such as offering the TRP by many countries to evade their permanent global obligations enunciated in the IRL, IHRL, IHL,and CIL, case-by-case approach based conferment of TRP with protracted parleys on “burden-sharing” by many states and the justifiable allocation of refugees among receiving states. The concept of “burden-sharing”about refugees has a volatile history,and it commenced in the 1950s as a principle for promoting international solidarity among the refugee-hosting countries.

However, the idea of “burden sharing” is a conspicuous gap in the IRL; therefore, it requires a better lego-institutional response mechanism. Therefore, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted the New York Declaration (NYD) on September 19, 2016, where under more than 193 nation-states committed to the principle of “equitable burden-sharing” and responsibility to host and protect the refugees in mass flight. The New York Declaration contemplates a “Global Compact on Refugees(GCR)” having two modules namely the “Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF),”and the UNHCR has been entrusted to formulate the entire GCR. The newest third draft of the GCR has been released on June 04, 2018 and the UNGA shall adopt the final draft of the GCR by the end of 2018. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the GCR would bridge the refugee protection gaps in existing IRL on the burden-sharing. However, the doctrine of Non-refoulement must be invoked to assure the nation-states to grant TRP,but the contemporary discourse is on the timeframe as to when and how refugees should be returned to their homelands. Who should decide their return and what are the contours of such a replacement? However, their return must have IHRL components relating to dignity and safety while critically appreciating circumstances in their homelands.

These protection measures are inherent and entrenched in the principle of “Non-refoulement” enshrined in Article 33 (1)of the 1951 UNCSR stating that “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”Now, the principle of “Non-refoulement”is an inalienable part of customary international law applicable to all nation-states regardless of their being privy to 1951 UNCSR with its 1967 Additional Protocol or not and it is also central to municipal legal systems. However, it is still debatable whether “Non-refoulement” is a jus cogens of international law or not but Refoulement and Restrictionism are part of modern nation-states,and refugee receiving governments are hell bent to wind up refugee camps. For example; Vietnamese in Hong Kong, Rwandans in Tanzania, and North Koreans in China, some categories of refugees in South Asia, and Syrian refugees in few European States have been bracing these situations that violate the principle of “Non-refoulement.”

There is No Wrap-Up

There is no wrap-up in evolving the understandings and exploring the options to provide legal protection to refugees around the world,and it requires a proper appreciation of normative perception of protection and humanitarian complexities entrenched in the refugee well-being. The refugee problem in the Global North countries has triggered the societal tensions and anxieties. Many national governments have been extracting fiscal support from rich donor governments in the name refugee hosting without addressing the local repinements due to the presence of refugees. Therefore, the Global North governments ought to be vigilant regarding shifting responsibility for hosting refugees in the Global South or unstable countries. In Europe, recent elections in Germany, France,and Austria have shown that it was immensely challenging to mollify the native people about the refugee protection and it resulted in detrimental repercussions for the political class, regional stability,and homeland security.

There are numerous stakeholders like national governments, academics, refugee crusaders, refugee aid people, RSD personnel and the media that can generate public understanding, motivate international community and formulate pragmatic policies on legal protection gaps under the IRL.The comity of nations is responsible for protecting refugees, motivate all refugee stakeholders including national governments and support the GCR mechanism. The UNHCR has successfully established itself as a catalyst in protecting, fostering and managing refugees and their mobility across the world and its role must be central to the success of the GCR. The nation-states and all the stakeholders must strive to accomplish the human rights-oriented transformation of the lives of refugees and the host communities.There is an indispensable requirement of refugee participation in the Global Refugee Forum under the GCR to disseminate information and share best practices from a multitude of perspectives based on age, caste, creed, ethnicity, disabilities, diversity, gender, race, religion, social origin, political opinion, and regional affiliations. The UNHCR must develop these elements as an intractable part of the GCR regime.

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

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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International Law

Why Human Rights Abuses Threaten Regional and Global Security

Ebad Mobaligh

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Human rights scholars (Brysk, 2009, Mullerson 1997, Chirot and McCauley 2010) argue that discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, and gender and violations of their social, economic, and security rights, and political opinions leads to conflicts. In response to the discrimination and violation of their rights, people either start to revolt against the aggressor or immigrate to neighboring countries for safety and protection. The rebellion is either supported by locals, locals immigrated to neighboring countries, other states who may obtain a personal gain, or in the name of human rights protection. In each of these scenarios, the internal insecurities cross borders and, with other states’ involvements, eventually become a global insecurity. Modern technology, including social media, globalized economy, and massive immigrations can easily transfer the effect of conflict from one part of the world to the others (Chirot and McCauley 2010). Mullerson argues that in the case of human rights violation, there is a direct link between domestic and international stability. He further states that human rights violation has a direct correlation with domestic stability which may at least indirectly influence international stability (Mullerson 1997).  

The authors of “A Complex Network Analysis of Ethnic Conflicts and Human Rights Violations” state that these types of discrimination and violation of rights usually occur in states that are socio-politically unstable or are in the process of democratization (Sharma et al. 2017). Mullerson posits a similar suggestion. “Sometimes the initiation of the processes of liberalization and democratization of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes can have a similar effect” (Mullerson 1997, 37). The liberation and democratization of Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan are excellent examples to support Mullerson’s argument. Sharma et al, examining conflict in new media from the around world, found a link between democratization and ethnic conflicts.

Mullerson further elaborates that during the Cold War, most threats to international relations came from domestic instabilities caused by human rights violation rather than cross-border attacks from different states (Mullerson 1997). The argument of Rainer and Goel regarding Myanmar’s genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minorities and the regional impact of its insecurities is one of the prime examples of arguments stating that there is a correlation between human rights violation and regional and global insecurities (Rainer and Goel 2020). Mullerson presents additional evidence, deriving from the growth of religious fundamentalists and their discrimination against other religions which is disturbing global instability. He further elaborates with regard to the treatment meted out by the extreme right-wing pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Muslim minorities in India and argues that the religious beliefs of the BJP are a recipe for intra-religious conflict (Mullerson 1997). India, one of the world’s largest democracies, has witnessed streams of intra-religious violence since the BJP came into power. Mullerson argues that the internal conflict in India may not cause global instability since Hindu extremism is confined within the borders of India; however, he suggests that the Islamic fundamentalists view Western secularization, democracy, and the global social economy as a threat to their fundamental values, and that this may be the biggest threat to many countries as well as the entire world (Mullerson 1997). He further argues that the Russians, who deem the technological and economic growth of the Western countries as a threat to their national security, may further fuel the agenda of the Islamic fundamentalists to slow the technological and economic advancements of the West. 

It is evident from all the arguments that discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, and gender and violations of their social, economic, and security rights, and political opinions lead to conflicts. Significant evidence has been provided to suggest that in the case of Myanmar, the internal conflict not only created internal and regional instability but also resulted in economic instabilities for Myanmar. Alison Brysk states that there is a direct correlation between human rights and the long-term stability of a state (Brysk 2009).

After WWII, and ever since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in the UN, many states with stable democracies have incorporated human rights into their foreign policy either by being a good Samaritan or under pressure from human rights institutions to address human rights violations in other states. The policy was not given much consideration during the Cold War; however, after the Cold War, many states took actions even against their old friends who committed gross human rights violations during the Cold War.

However, Brysk argues that states do not sacrifice their national interest to protect other states. He states, “Global good citizen states see the blood, treasure, and political capital they contribute to the international human rights regime as an investment, not a loss. Like other states, global good Samaritans are following their national interest; the difference is that they have a broader, longer-term vision of national interest” (Brysk 2009). However, that is not the goal of the discussion in this paper; the main argument here is that as other states get involved whether for being a good citizen of the world or for their personal interest, the conflict is dragged outside the borders of the states. The US actions to stop aid to Myanmar, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US’ military operation against Yugoslavia to protect ethnic Albanians and prevent regional instability are prime examples of internal conflicts due to human rights violation, creating insecurities regionally as well as globally.

Bibliography

Brysk, Alison. 2009. Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights As Foreign Policy. New York, UNITED STATES: Oxford University Press USA – OSO. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=415385.

Chirot, Daniel, and Clark McCauley. 2010. Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder. Princeton, UNITED STATES: Princeton University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=617256.

“How to Fail at Regime Change | Harvard Political Review.” n.d. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://harvardpolitics.com/world/regime-change-failure/.

Mullerson, Rein. 1997. Human Rights Diplomacy. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Taylor & Francis Group. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=1665651.

Rainer, Elise, and Anish Goel. 2020. “Self-Inflicted Instability: Myanmar and the Interlinkage between Human Rights, Democracy and Global Security.” Democracy and Security ahead-of-print (ahead-of-print): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17419166.2020.1811968.

Sharma, Kiran, Gunjan Sehgal, Bindu Gupta, Geetika Sharma, Arnab Chatterjee, Anirban Chakraborti, and Gautam Shroff. 2017. “A Complex Network Analysis of Ethnic Conflicts and Human Rights Violations.” Scientific Reports 7 (1): 8283. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09101-8.

Wehrey, Frederic. n.d. “Why Libya’s Transition to Democracy Failed.” Washington Post. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/02/17/why-libyas-transition-failed/.

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International Law

Freedom of religion in the African Human Rights System

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Apart from the Mainstream religious beliefs such as Islam and Christianity, Africa is also the home of different indigenous religious beliefs most of which are considered regressive. For scholars like Lauric Henneton, colonization in the early modern period was as much about religious missions, about ‘the harvest of souls’, as it was about expanding territorial boundaries and economic resources. In post-colonial Africa, the primary goal of the Organization of African Union(OAU) was defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member states rather than promoting and protecting the individual rights of the people of Africa. The latter becomes a matter of priority when the African Commission established by the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Right (the Banjul Charter) in 1981. Article 8 of the Charter provides that: “Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.”This provision does not explicitly mention the word “belief” despite the fact that the right to hold a particular belief is generally considered to be an absolute one. Furthermore, this provision fails to guarantee the right to change one’s religion. However, probably the most problematic part of Article 8 of the charter is its inclusion of ‘the claw-back clause’ – “…subject to law and order…”. Such formulation allows member states to limit the right to freedom of religion ‘to the maximum extent permitted by domestic law’. In other words, they can enact laws which could potentially violate the right to freedom of religion and negate the regional human right protection system.  Even though it has never been the primary subject of contention, the issue of freedom of religion has dealt with by the African Commission and Court of Human and peoples’ rights as an auxiliary matter in several cases. In this blog post, I will present four different cases related to freedom of religion decided by the ACHPR and the ACtHPR in their chronological order.   

Amnesty International and others v. Sudan

In this case, the complaints described numerous serious violations that took place in different parts of Sudan, primarily between 1989 and 1993. The cases were submitted by four different Non-Governmental organizations alleging that the Sudanese government involved in extrajudicial and summary execution, torture and discrimination on the basis of religion. Though the case involves a number of issues, for the purpose of this blog I will only focus on the ruling of the commission regarding freedom of religion. It was alleged that Christians and other non-Muslims were subjected to expulsion, arbitrary arrests and detention. Their churches were closed, and religious leaders were prevented from getting food with the aim of converting them to Islam. In addition to this, the domestic court of Sudan entertained their case based on Shari’a law which is not subscribed by those victims. The government, on the other hand, alleged that Sudan has guaranteed the right to freedom of faith and worship in its constitution.

The commission founds violation of Article 8 and Article 2 of the African charter stating that

“There is no controversy as to Shari’a being based upon the interpretation of the Muslim religion’, but when applying Shari’a the tribunals in Sudan must do so in accordance with the other obligations undertaken by the State of Sudan. Trials must always accord with international fair-trial standards”

The commission has also emphasized that “Shari’a law, being based on a religious belief, should not be applied to those who do not adhere to the religion of Islam” Accordingly,  tribunals that apply only Shari’a law are not competent to judge non-Muslims, and everyone should have the right to be tried by a secular court if they wish.” Concerning other claims related oppression of religious leaders and expulsion of missionaries from the country, since the government of Sudan fails to ‘provides evidence or justifications that would rebut the allegations” the commission concluded that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Charter. 

Centre for Minority Rights in Development and Minority Rights Group International on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council v. Kenya

This case started following the eviction of thousands Endorses tribe members by the then Kenyan government to create a game reserve for tourism. The area from which the community was evicted, according to the complainant had been considered as “the spiritual home of all Endorois”. Their eviction, thus, prevented them from practicing their religion in the appropriate place.  After exhausting all the domestic remedies, in 2003 the Centre for Minority Rights Development and Minority Rights Group International brought the communication to the African Commission on behalf of the Endoroi community. Before the commission, the government argued that even though the eviction had actually happened, it was justified and “subject to administrative procedures” The commission found infringement of freedom of religion of the community reasoning that the action of the government was neither necessary nor backed by sound justifications. The commission asserted that “allowing the Endorois community to use the land to practice their religion would not detract from the goal of conservation or developing the area for economic purposes”. Most importantly, in a way which could remedy the shortcoming of Article 8 of the Charter, the commission  underscored that “states cannot take recourse to the limitation clauses of the African Charter  in order to violate the express provisions of the charter and its underlying principles”(Para. 173)

Prince v. South Africa

The case started following Mr. Garreth Anver Prince’s denial of access to the bar in South Africa due to his religious use of cannabis (he was a member of the Rastafari). His claim was that the prohibition of cannabis usage for ritual purposes amounted to a disproportionate infringement on his right to freedom of religion.   In addition to his freedom of religion, Mr. Prince alleged that the prohibition of the use of marijuana is an affront to his dignity. The Constitutional court of South Africa decided against Mr. Prince underscoring the qualified or non-absolute nature of the right to freedom of religion. The court specifically ascertained that “While members of a religious community may not determine for themselves which laws they will obey and which they will not, the state should, where it is reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting the believers to a choice between their faith and respect for the law.” Following his unsuccessful appeal, Mr. Prince brought his case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right claiming that South Africa had violated, inter alia, his freedom of religion. The commission affirm the decision of South African constitutional court emphasizing that while the right to hold religious beliefs is an absolute one, the right to act according to the belief is not. As such, “the right to practice one’s religion must yield to the interests of society in some circumstances” (para 41). In legitimizing the limitation imposes by South Africa, the commission made reference to Article 27 of the African Charter which provides the necessity of considering the rights of others in allowing the exercise of any right guaranteed therein.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v. Kenya

The African commission V. Kenya is the latest decision rendered by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights related to the right to freedom of religion. Unlike the rulings of the commission which are merely recommendations, the court’s decision has binding effects. Nevertheless, the court’s mandatory jurisdiction is shrinking.  Within the past six months, Tanzania, Benin and Ivory Coast have revoked the right of individuals and NGOs to sue them before the ACtHPR. Consequently, out of 54 member states of AU, the court has binding jurisdiction only over five countries.[1] The facts of this case are similar to the second case discussed in this paper. Following the eviction of members of the Ogiek community from their ancestral land, non-governmental organizations that represent the interest of the community brought an action before the Commission alleging that the action of the Kenyan government had violated different rights of the ogiek tribe members which are enshrined in the African charter. One of which was the right to freedom of religion. The government, on the other hand, argued that the “applicant has failed to adduce evidence to show the exact places where the alleged ceremonies for the religious sites of the Ogieks are located”. The respondent state has also contended that members of the community have already changed their religion to Christianity and therefore the forest has no relevance to exercise their religion.

The court decided that there was a violation of Article 8 of the African charter reasoning that “the communities’ religious practices were inextricably linked with the land and the environment and that interference with their connection to the land placed severe constraints on their ability to practice religious rituals.” (para 166 and 167)


[1] Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, and Rep. of Tunisia

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