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.
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.
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.
Psychology of Political Power : Does Power Corrupt or is Magnetic to the Most Corruptible?
Last week I attended a conference on ‘Political Power, Morality and Corruption’. A Socratic dialogue with fellow scholars led me back to one question that epistemologically haunts political theory and philosophy to date – Does power corrupt or is magnetic to the most corruptible? The cornerstone that this question posits on is antithetical to the idea of power duality as malefic or benefic. Instead, this problem statement is trying to explore and exact the fundamentals of political power. While the former part of the question is striving to deconstruct the soma of power itself, the latter construct of the question is focussing on the agency of an individual with political power.
Now, if you have read Frank Herbert’s Chapterhouse Dune, Missionaria Protectiva US science fiction novelist (1920 – 1986), he writes, “All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted”. Rather than saying absolute power corrupts absolutely, Herbert reveals a common metaphysical denominator: corruptibility, that fundamentally connects all those with political power. However, his sematic interpretation gives birth to more questions than answers. Suppose we take Herbert’s argument in consideration and assume that the most corruptible are indeed attracted to power. In that case, the global political infrastructure as we know today, is then built on the building block of corruption by its very virtue. For example, the 4th edition of the Global Corruption Index (GCI 2021) covered 196 countries and territories, and provided a comprehensive overview of the state of corruption around the world based on 43 variables. This extensive data revealed that only 52 countries have a low corruption index, with Finland and Norway leading the way. On the other hand, the rest 144 countries are suffering from profane corruption. Using Herbert’s interpretation of power and corruption, should we conclude that political corruption which is about privatization of average citizen and the use of public sphere to promote private interests, is the foundational political infrastructure of these 144 countries? And if this assertion is true, does it mean that every government representative of these 144 countries are fundamentally corrupt? Herbert’s simplistic interpretation of the problem statement creates a moral conundrum of either this or that, rather than exploring the connection between the two variables – power and corruption.
Power does not corrupt. It amplifies and reveals a leader’s predispositioned traits.
For decades, social psychologists were convinced that power corrupts. One of the key demonstrations of this assertion was the classic Stanford Prison Simulation Experiment (Zimbardo, 1971), where volunteers were randomly assigned to play the role of prisoners or prison guards. As the day passed by, it was observed that the students who were given the role of prison guards became sadistic and exercised their power to subjugate prisoners by taking away their clothes and forcing them to sleep on concrete floors. This subduing was absolute barbaric and callous in nature. The results were shocking. However, the Stanford Prison Experiment failed to explore one crucial variable – the behavioural and cognitive pattern of students who willingly participated and were recruited to be a part of ‘study of prison life’. So, Thomas Carnahan and Sam McFarland (2007) conducted an experiment on Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty?. They wanted to studywhat kind of people participate and are drawn to the likes of Stanford Prison Experiment. The research revealed that “ volunteers for the prison study scored significantly higher on measures of the abuse-related dispositions of aggressiveness, authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance and lower on empathy and altruism, two qualities inversely related to aggressive abuse”.
What Carnahan and McFarland’s experiment revealed was that power doesn’t corrupt, but it is a phenomenon that is monopolized by the agency of an individual. Power amplifies and exposes cognitive and behavioral predispositions that already exists within you. It merely reveals your innate tendencies, but it does not corrupt. Let’s take another example of a democratic statesman who wants to introduce a new healthcare bill for his people, is unexpectedly confronted with an ethical conundrum – he can either strengthen his political power and wealth by collaborating with pharmaceutical giants and increase the prices of the medicines in concern (demand-supply chain) , or he can metamorphosize his proposed bill into reality and benefit his subjects. What will he do? Since he already has procured political power and is deliberating on actualizing his healthcare bill to empower people, power here has not corrupted him. In fact, the argument that power corrupts collapses because if power indeed corrupts, this democratic statesman would not have proposed a healthcare bill for the welfare of his people to begin with. However, if he decides to enact the bill in favor of pharmaceutical moguls to increase his wealth and political status quo, it would be due to his predispositioned behavioral and cognitive schema for corruptibility. How he responds to this ethical conundrum will mirror his political psyche. It has nothing to do with power being essentially corruptible. Power only amplifies and exposes a leader’s predispositioned traits.
Friedrich Hayek makes a similar point in his chapter ‘Why the worst get on top’ in The Road to Serfdom (1943), where he highlights that individuals who rise to the top in the government are those who want to wield power and those who are most ruthless in using power. He writes, “Neither the government administration of a concentration camp nor the Ministry of Propaganda is suitable places for the exercise of humanitarian feelings. Yet, positions like these create a totalitarian state. So, when a distinguished American economist concludes that the probability of people in power disliking the possession and exercise of power is low, is similar to falsely assuming that the probability of an extremely tender-hearted person to desire a position of an whipping-master in a slave plantation is high.”
Recently, psychologists have re-investigated this phenomenon and theorised that rather than being a corrupting influence, power amplifies leaders’ innate tendencies. For example, extensive research on ‘Leader corruption depends on power and testosterone’ by Bendahan, Zehnder, Pralong and Antonaki used incentivized experimental games to manipulate leaders in power. Here, leaders had complete freedom to decide monthly pay-outs for themselves and their followers. Now, leaders could have made a prosocial decision to benefit the public good. However, they chose to abuse their power by invoking antisocial decisions, which reduced the total pay-outs of their followers but boosted the leaders’ earnings with a high margin. The researchers write, “In Study 1 (N = 478), we found that both amount of followers and discretionary choices independently predicted leader corruption. Study 2 (N = 240) examined how power and individual differences (e.g., personality, hormones) affected leader corruption over time; power interacted with endogenous testosterone in predicting corruption, which was highest when the leader power and baseline testosterone were both high. Honesty predicted initial level of leader’s antisocial decisions; however, honesty did not shield leaders from the corruptive effect of power.”
Concluding with Caligula – The Mad Roman Emperor!
After years of witnessing the most barbaric purges, treason laws, exiles, execution, and corruption of all time during Tiberius’s rule, Caligula (37 – 41 AD) was seen as a breath of fresh air when he took the throne. After going through despondent years of constant fear, Caligula’s initiation was perceived as a hope for a flourishing Roman republic. At first, Caligula lived up to the expectations of the roman people. He brought back many people exiled by Tiberius and ceremoniously burned the records of the infamous Treason Trails held by Sejanus under the order of Tiberius. This act was celebrated and made Caligula popular and well-liked among the Senate. He then took a step further and eliminated unpopular hefty taxes, initiated constructions of harbors that created massive employment opportunities for Roman citizens, and staged lavish events like chariot races, gladiator shows, and theatre plays to entertain his people. He was indeed a breath of fresh air after Tiberius.
But, after seven months of his rule, things changed for the worst. Caligula started to use and abuse his political powers so dauntlessly that it pushed Rome into a dark age of political and economic instability. He went on a rampage of committing murder, adultery, and acts of debauchery. His eccentricities became more murderous, including restating the very Treason Trials that he had ended. Dressed in silk robes and covered in jewels, Caligula pretended he was a god. He made it mandatory for his senators to grovel and kiss his feet and seduced their wives at lavish dinner parties. He wanted his statue to be erected in the temple at Jerusalem, which at the point, would have been highly controversial in a region that was already prone to revolt against the Romans. Luckily, Herod Agrippa, who ruled Palestine then, convinced him not to do so. Additionally, since Caligula was spending vast amount of money on his lavish lifestyle, he emptied Rome’s treasury. To reverse this damage, he started blackmailing roman leaders and senates, and confiscated their properties and wealth.
There is no denying that there was a method to Caligula’s political madness but power didn’t corrupt him. If it did, the first initial seven months of ruling Rome after Tiberius, Roman republic would not have experienced economic, political and culture growth. However, power certainly did amplify and expose his innate characteristics of corruptibility and debauchery. Caligula’s madness of abusing political power and tyrannical reign grew out of control. An assassination plot for structured against him and he was murdered after being stabbed over 30 times by a cabal of Praetorian guards in 41 A.D. This reminds me of what Robert Caro mentioned in his book The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson(2012), “Power always reveals. When a man is climbing, trying to persuade others to give him power, concealment is necessary. But, as soon as the man obtains more power, camouflage becomes less necessary.” To conclude, it is not that the power corrupts or is magnetic to the most corruptible. The truth is – power only reveals who you truly are.
Omicron and Vaccine Nationalism: How Rich Countries Have Contributed to Pandemic’s Longevity
In a global pandemic, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe”, – it is more of true with respect to the current globalized world system. It is said that crisis strikes the conscience and forces the ‘commonality of purpose’ on one another- and a major one in magnanimous scale. But the current Covid-19 crisis seems to have emerged in oddity with this very axiom, of course, due to self-serving, in WHO’s words- ‘self-defeating’ and ‘immoral’, approaches to dealing the pandemic by wealthy countries.
A new and potentially more transmissible variant of Covid-19 virus, named Omicron by WHO, has been detected in South Africa. With scientists yet to be confirmed about new variant’s epicenter and its likely implication on human immune system, the emergence of Omicron has brought the long-warned case of ‘vaccine nationalism’– a phenomenon in which each nation prioritizes securing ample doses without considering impact on poor ones- to light.
Unheeded to the repeated warnings by scientists and pandemic specialists, many of the world’s richest countries had embarked on a vaccine-acquisition frenzy and hoarded jabs more than their requirements. Some countries have even gone to the extent that they had acquired up to four times what their population needed. Thereby, it has left majority of poor and developing countries, particularly those in global south, unvaccinated, with further risk of the virus being muted into more virulent variants, as in the case of Omicron.
A simple numerical data over vaccination rate across the world exposes the grotesques picture of pandemic recovery divide among the countries and immoral hoarding and hedging efforts on vaccine supplies by wealthy countries. As of now, whereas only 3% of people in low income countries have fully been vaccinated, the figure exceeds 60% in both high-income and upper-middle –income countries. In Africa, the most under-vaccinated and the epicenter of ominous Omicron, only some 7% of its 1.3 billion people are fully immunized.
Given the 9.1bn vaccines already manufactured and 12bn expected by the end of this year, the question is- why does vaccination effort remain so discriminatory and dividing across the regions? The answer, in most part, lies in the ‘pervasive economic inequity’ inherent in initial vaccine-acquisition process. With their enormous capacity to pay out, rich countries, even before pandemic took devastating hold, had pursued a ‘portfolio-approach’ in investing on vaccine development research by pharmaceutical companies- simultaneous investment on multiple ones. In exchange, those countries stroke bilateral deal with each drag company to secure enough prospective vaccine doses to inoculate their respective population several times over.
This absolutist vaccine-acquisition drive of wealthy nations had substantially thwarted the holistic approach taken up by World Health Organization(WHO) under the platform of COVAX, a vaccine sharing program. With the aim of reducing the delay in vaccine allocation to poor and developing countries, and thus ensuring vaccine equity, the multilateral platform didn’t get enough incentives from wealthy ones, since started its journey in April 2020. Both investment and acquisition by well-off countries, having bypassed the COVAX, kept them into the front of manufacturing line, thereby, contributed to the distributional injustice.
‘What starts wrong ends wrong’- initial absolutist approaches in vaccine acquisition started to be manifested in discriminatory distribution of vaccines. Thereby, an amazing scientific breakthrough, development of vaccine in record time, has been offset by awful political policy. In mid-2021, when one portion of world were almost on the track of carefree normalcy, people in bigger portion were struggling to breath. Today, problem is not in production of vaccines, as 2 billion doses of vaccines are being manufactured in every month, rather in the ‘unfairness of distribution’.
Early monopolistic exercise by G20 on acquisition and subsequent stockpile of vaccines has resulted in such galling situation that they have commandeered over 89% of vaccines already produced and over 71% of future deliveries. Consequently, the global inoculation drive, since started, is so unjust that for every vaccine delivered to the poorest countries, six times as many doses are being administered as third and booster vaccines in the richest countries. Adding further to the crisis being escalated, while more than 100 countries, for past one year, have desperately demanded emergency waiver on TRIPs related regulatory restriction on Technologies crucial to pandemic recovery, it has repeatedly been blocked by UK and EU.
Picture is not all-about gloomy with respect to vaccine collaboration but it is quite tiny to the scale of requirements. Rich countries could not deliver on the commitments they did to help poor countries immunize their population. For instance, WHO’s target of having 40% of global population vaccinated by end of this year, through COVAX, seems certainly to fall short largely due to the rich countries failing to deliver on their promise to use their surplus vaccines to immunize the under-vaccinated countries. Far from near, the G7 countries had drastically failed to deliver on their promises made on G7 summit in June. As of last week, USA has delivered only 25%, with further embarrassing arithmetic of EU only 19%, UK 11% and Canada just 5%.
Given the frightening predictions from WHO that another 5 million could be added to the already 5 million death tolls across the world, in the next year or more, it is high time starting a collective endeavor with herculean efforts to inoculate large swaths of unvaccinated people in un-protected areas. Keeping large portion out of vaccination will only make the pandemic endure with no time to end, as virus continues to persist through mutating in un-protected area into a more menacing variant. If so, then again someone else may say, after next the worst wave- “We were forewarned- and yet here we are”.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW): Wishful daydream or historic milestone?
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017, has entered into force on the 22nd of January of this year and the number of ratifying states continues to grow, with Mongolia being the latest to announce its accession. This positive trend is certainly welcomed with enthusiasm by the Civil Society campaigners and growing number of supporters of this treaty that represents a huge step forward for the global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It would certainly be dishonest to ignore the fact that this new international legal instrument remains controversial, to say the least, for most of the members of the so-called nuclear deterrence community. As preparations are ongoing for the first Meeting of States Parties, scheduled to take place in Vienna on 22-24 March 2022, it is useful to address some of the main doubts and arguments against the treaty.
In this regard, the main criticism is that it makes no sense to support a treaty on nuclear weapons if those states that possess them have not joined nor any intention to join it.
In order to address this claim, it may be useful to recall that in the case of the Mine Ban and the Cluster Munition treaties, its main promoters and supporters were also states that did not possess those weapons, and that those international instruments also received some harsh criticism for this reason. Despite of this, there is no doubt now that both of those treaties have become remarkable success stories, not only by achieving the goal of approaching universalization, but also by consolidating a general moral condemnation of those categories of weapons. Therefore, the argument that a treaty necessarily needs to be joined by the possessors of the weapons can easily be rebutted. Despite of the current position of the nuclear weapons states, each new ratification of the treaty is not meaningless: on the contrary, it provides the treaty more authority and contributes to the growing pressure on nuclear weapons states to adopt further steps towards nuclear disarmament.
The other major contribution of the TPNW is that it facilitates the process of delegitimisation of nuclear weapons, necessary to finally amend the well-established foundations of nuclear deterrence doctrines. The humanitarian principles that are underlying the treaty are totally incompatible with those doctrines, and therefore are having an impact on them by highlighting the inherent immorality and illegitimacy of nuclear weapons.
Another argument for the case of ratification is that it provides states the opportunity to support the process of democratization of the global debate on nuclear weapons, as this new treaty has been the result of a very open discussion with active engagement of delegations from all geographic regions and, in particular, of representatives of Civil Society. This is not a minor aspect of this process, but a key element. Indeed, unlike in negotiations of previous international legal instruments, in this era of growing complexity and interlinkages, the main challenges faced by humankind are being addressed by a diverse group of citizens, from all walks of life and regions. Traditional diplomacy is certainly not enough, and in the case of the TPNW, the positive results would clearly not have been possible without the decisive boost provided by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was able to mobilize Civil Society and likeminded governments towards the goal of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
While it would be naïve to expect the establishment of the nuclear weapons states to be convinced by the humanitarian narrative and in a foreseeable future to amend its defence and security policies base on nuclear deterrence, the TPNW and its focus on the security of the human being instead of the traditional notion of the security of the state, are already having an impact on the academic and public debates in those states.
The second argument used by its critics is that the TPNW weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Actually, this is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. In fact, the TPNW can serve as an initiative to help implement article VI of the NPT, by which parties are committed to undertake to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. This is of vital importance as the treaty clearly attaches a key role to all parties, and not only to those states that possess nuclear weapons. This commitment has also been reflected in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the TPNW can be understood as a reflection of that obligation to contribute to nuclear disarmament by non-nuclear weapons states.
Another common point is that the nuclear weapons industry is too strong and well consolidated and that it would be naïve to pretend that this treaty could actually have an impact on investment decisions.
This pessimism has also been proven wrong. In fact, in 2021, more than one hundred financial institutions are reported to have decided to stop investing in companies related to nuclear weapons production. As a result, the nuclear weapons industry is experiencing a considerable reduction and the trend towards the exclusion of this sector from investment targets is growing steadily. This is not only the consequence from the legal obligations that emanate from the TPNW but a reflection of the devaluation of the public image associated to these industries. As this public image continues to deteriorate, it is likely that this trend will continue and that the moral condemnation of these weapons of mass destruction will be absorbed into the mainstream of society.
Another common misinterpretation is that the TPNW should be understood as an instrument that is only designed to be joined exclusively by non-nuclear weapons states.
In fact, even though the treaty was developed by non-nuclear weapons states, it has been drafted and negotiated with the goal of universal adherence, including, someday, those states that still include nuclear deterrence in their national security doctrines. In particular, the TPNW establishes a clear set of steps for nuclear weapons states in order to eliminate their arsenals of nuclear weapons. Specifically, within 60 days after the entry into force of the treaty for a state party that possesses nuclear weapons, that state must submit a plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons to a competent international authority that has been specially designated by states parties. The treaty also includes a process to designate a competent international authority to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons by a state before acceding to the treaty, and a process for states parties that maintain nuclear weapons in their territories for the removal of these weapons and report this action to the United Nations Secretary General.
It is also noteworthy that this treaty obliges states parties to provide adequate assistance to victims affected by the use or by testing of nuclear weapons, and to take the necessary measures for environmental rehabilitation in areas contaminated under its control. This dimension of the treaty constitutes an important contribution both to the protection of human rights of victims and to the now inescapable obligation to protect the environment, which are aspects that are not covered by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This certainly does not affect the value and vital role of this key instrument of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime but complements it by addressing the fundamental issue of environmental reparation.
The main challenge now is now not only to achieve a wider universality of the TPNW, but to engage more stakeholders and create awareness on the urgency of bringing pressure on the nuclear weapons states to finally move toward nuclear disarmament. In this regard, Civil Society initiatives have been promoting engagement of members of grassroots, parliament, the media and city governments, particularly in nuclear weapons states, which has had impressive results, with hundreds of local governments expressing support for the treaty and generating discussion among the population. These initiatives serve the purpose of putting pressure on politicians and especially, to facilitate a discussion within democratic societies about the sustainability and risks involved in the possession and harboring of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the TPNW has a long way to go and overcome many obstacles to achieve its objective, but in its first year of entry into force, it has already had an undeniable impact on the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, despite the expected skeptics and efforts to ignore its existence stemming from the still powerful nuclear deterrence establishment. Most of its technical experts, academics and government officials honestly believe that nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee peace and stability to the world and therefore should continue as the foundation of international security doctrines. These well-established ideas have been based on the questionable assumption that the deployment of these weapons have avoided war and can guarantee permanent peace for all nations. This has served as a sort of dogmatic idea for many decades, but recent research results have shown that the risks involved are significantly higher and that the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic for every citizen of the planet. The humanitarian impact paradigm, which underlies the process that has inspired the TPNW, has provoked a tectonic shift in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, which had been limited to the NPT review conferences with its often-frustrating results. Certainly, the persistence of the different approaches needs to be addressed in a more constructive discussion among the supporters of this treaty and the deterrence community.
Finally, the fact that the first meeting of states parties of the TPNW will take place in Vienna is very meaningful as Austria has been one of the leading nations in this process, particularly in drafting the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which has been a decisive step towards the treaty that has already fulfilled that commitment. Despite of all the difficulties and the persistence of significant resistance, the active and committed participation of diplomats and Civil Society representatives, under the leadership of Austria, allow to envisage that this first meeting will help to strengthen the treaty and move forward in the long and burdensome road to the final objective of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
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