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

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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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The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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The term dictators & demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts but there’s a difference, the former rules over a totalitarian state where government is able to exercise a complete influence over every aspect of citizen’s life whereas the latter is a “wannabe dictator” but due to the system of checks & balance in place they’re are not fully capable to create police states.

In 21st century these flamboyant  demagogues  have adjusted their personality & politics in such a way  that they successfully hide their intent & action in the shadows of democratic system so unlike Hitler’s Fascist regime or North Korea’s Communist dictatorship, it’s difficult to held them accountable because they’ll try to justify their hasty & unreasonable decision  in the name of Constitution & larger public good.

There are some common qualities shared by populist demagogues in  democratic countries that need to be checked in all seasons to protect the country & its people from potential benevolent dictators.

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

The rabble-rousers of the modern era have smartly learnt from their predecessors that to stay in power for eternity, it’s important to curb & limit the functions of Independent Institutions like Courts, Central Bank, Auditory Bodies, Investigation Agencies etc. For instance the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan has almost destroyed judicial independence in the country & with the recent news about the call of his political ally to shut down Turkey’s Constitutional Courts is not just alarming but also a cause of concern in a country where a record number of journalists are serving jail sentences under false charges & this decision if taken will not just compromise the press freedom which is already at its nadir in Turkey but it’ll also weaken the capacity of judicial system to guarantee the protection of people’s rights.

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

Demagogues keep reminding us about the ancient prosperity & always pushing the narrative to portray their   country as the leading force , it can be done via 2 ways, either promote the soft power like culture, tradition, civilization & spirituality or use even nasty tricks to pull out the blinded nationalism that includes portraying one’s country as the leading colonizer, telling people about invaders & portray them as protector of native civilization or use race theory to create a class divide in society like Hitler did by invoking the Aryan identity that made some people into believing that they are superior to others.

By inciting this false hope of regaining the past glory & branding slogans like “Make America Great Again”, “For us, Hungary First”, “Abki bar, Modi Sarkar” they deceit & manipulate people into voting for their parties without doing any substantive work on the ground.

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

Dissent or criticism of the leader & its establishment is part of a healthy Democratic society where people are fundamentally free to express their views regarding the government’s policies. While delivering a lecture on the topic,” The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism,” the Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud noted that ” Descent is the safety valve of a democracy”  but sadly the Modern day Niro of India who ironically belongs to the same State where this lecture was being delivered has left no stone unturned to deliberately cut this valve into pieces.

Critics & Human Rights Activists are put behind bars for raising their voice against the atrocities & crime inflicted on tribals, minorities & other vulnerable sections of society. They are mercilessly beaten, tortured, thrashed & maimed in solitary confinements making no exceptions for maintaining basic human decency that is expected from the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

4. Polarisation for winning elections

The gruesome killing of George Floyd by White male police officer sparked a global outrage & protests against the racial inequality & hate crime that is at its highest level in more than a decade. People demanded accountability & change to stop the Institutionalised & Systemic racism against the people of color in the United States. Ex-president Trump instead of calling out & condemning white supremism  (terrorism) has defended & even embraced this far right radical ideology of hate.

As per the report by V-Dem, there’s an upsurge in political polarisation in India since 2014 when BJP seize the power at Centre & this is evident by frequent incidents of mob-lynching, riots & attacks on minorities especially muslims & Dalits in India. This report further states that Freedom of Religion has seen a considerable decline under the current regime. The reason behind these precipitous decline is the rise of Hindutva Politics which was long gone, forgotten & buried in the coffin but the BJP has called out the jinn of hatred to sway elections after elections at the cost of people who want to live a peaceful life in a non-hostile environment.

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

Politics was always a dirty business but populist leaders in most democracies have stooped to a new low & ruined it further. They never shy away from using homophobic & sexiest slurs or passing derogatory remarks against their counterparts in other parties.

Take for instance Brazilian President Bolsonaro, a nutcase who revokes popular prejudices in his ugly campaign rhetoric by passing many offensive & utterly distasteful comments against women, gays, environmentalists & minorities.

The rise of retro-macho politics has left no space for political sobriety & if unchecked, the tumor of hypermasculinity will not be just limited to hate speeches & jibes but translate into formidable action against humanity.

That’s how Romanian dictator Ceaușescu turned his political rhetoric into dystopian reality, under his dictatorship, birth control was banned, abortion was outlawed & fetus was declared the “property of society”, so women were tested for pregnancy & monitored to make sure that they give birth, and punished if they failed.

6. Refusal to accept migrants from Impoverished & war-torn countries

This is the hypocrisy of Western States who for decades have waged war, supported regime change, imposed Economic sanctions & trade barriers, sold weapons to militants in Middle-eastern & African countries finally when refugees & immigrants are arriving at the European borders from these destabilized countries where anarchy has bolstered civil war & complete chaos after covering an extremely dangerous route & taking enormous risks such as relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas, they were detained & locked up under inhumane conditions in shipping containers in Hungary at whims & fancies of  Hungarian government headed by ultra-right wing Viktor Orbán but after the European Union Court ruling last year, Hungary has finally shut-down these illegal migrant transit zones situated on its border with Serbia, at the same time tightening rules which will effectively bar future migration prospects in EU member states.

7. Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change is the biggest threat to human existence in the 21st Century. Earth’s Climate is now changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as the result of human activities. It needs to be understood that Climate Change is not just a science issue but a policy issue as well. In most of the countries where demagogues are in-charge the policy seems to be more destructive, anti-science & discredit the scientific studies that show that effects of Climate Change are horrific & destructive for the Planet.

The environmental policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil have put the Amazon Rainforest on the verge of extinction. Regarded as the “lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon acts as a giant carbon sink & is also responsible for driving rain patterns across South America & Africa. Leaked documents revealed that Bolsonaro has cynical plans for Amazon Rainforest that includes hydroelectric plants, construction of bridges on Amazon river & a proposed highway through the dense forest to integrate Amazon basin with the rest of the National territory.

Under pressure from the Biden Government, Bolsonaro is now promising to make Brazil Carbon neutral by 2050 but his Environmental minister has asserted that his country is ready to cut 40 percent of deforestation in Amazon Forest only if the International Community will provide $1Billion as assistance. Though It is highly unlikely that the Brazilian government will take any steps against the influential farming lobby that played an important role in the victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 & to whom he has promised to dismantle existing environmental protections to make way for agricultural land expansion and intensified production.

The rise of populist leaders in  democratic countries is not sudden, before seizing power they boastfully promise to set their country free from corruption, crime & socio-economic inequality but after winning election they shift their goal post to achieve sinister objectives. Electoral political system in a democracy needs an urgent overhaul to include an educated perspective rather than simply representing the

will of majority which is no less than tyranny & this could only happen if people(voters) are aware about fascism among themselves & what  does it take for a normal country to become a Nazi State that had turned itself on the path of ravage & destruction. The importance of self realisation & tumultuous past is aptly described in a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his classic book, For whom the Bell tolls “But are there not many fascists in your country?’ There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes“.

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

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

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

Universal self-Regulation code

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

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

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

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

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

[4] Id. at 13

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

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

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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