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China and the SEA in the Asia’s Troubled waters

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Coastal State’s claim over the ocean has been accommodated by the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC)  though a quid pro quo arrangement, that is something for something. While Coastal States are given certain degree of sovereignty over their surrounding oceans, yet other states interests should also be respected, which include rights of navigation as well as ocean resources usage rights. While such arrangement can be seen as a ‘package-deals’  offered by the LOSC, however, in practice things would never be as easy as it could be. Complication arising from LOSC’s arrangement varies from geographical condition of both the coastal state and the ocean itself, to broader interests of other states, in this case user maritime states. In addition to this, the problem of maritime delimitation between adjacent states poses another problem.

A never-ended problem related to maritime delimitation as well as access to ocean resources, has been the issue of South-China Sea (SCS). The SCS is a semi-enclosed sea which is surrounded by at least eight States; China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan. Such geographic location has made SCS surrounded by the land territory of many states and thus the sovereignty as well as sovereign rights of the surrounding states upon the SCS became complicated. In addition to this, the SCS area consists of four islands, which include Pratas, Macclesfield Bank, Paracels and Spratlys.  Upon such geographical complexion, China declared its claim upon the SCS based on its map known as the nine-dashed lines which encircle almost the entire SCS and within which China claims are China’s historical waters over which it has sovereignty. On the other hand, other littoral states are also claiming sovereignty over small islands in the SCS, namely, Vietnam claims the Spartly Island, while the Philippines and Brunei claims the Kalayan Island Group (KIG).

While the overlapping claims remain, in May 2009 China submit a claim before the United Nations, claiming several islands, which include Spartly, Scarborough Soal, Paracel and others to be included within its territory based on the nine-dashed lines map, combined with occasional references to “historic waters.” In April 2012, the Philippines Navy caught eight Chinas’ fishing vessels in Scarborough Soal waters, that is 220 km off-shore Philippines. Is should be bear in mind that the Scarborough Soal is claimed by several states, namely China, the Philippines and Taiwan. In January 2013 the Philippines submit its objection to the China’s nine-dashed lines to the Permanent Court of Arbitration demanding the cancelation of the nine-dashed line map proposed by China. Permanent Court Arbitration (PCA) resulted on the illegitimate China’s claim, China has asserted that they will not participate on the proceeding and neither obeys the final award of the PCA.

This paper seeks to analyze legal implications upon China’s refusal on PCA’s award to Indonesia’s border security over the waters around Natuna Islands. It further proposed what should be done by Indonesia in anticipating both legal as well as political consequences of such assertive reaction taken by China.

The Philippines vs. China before the Permanent Court of International Arbitration

While conflict between affected littoral states over the South-China Se remains, in 2013 the Philippines brought the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The disputes concerned was on the legal basis of maritime rights and entitlements in the South-China Sea, the status of certain geographic features in the South-China Sea and the lawfulness of certain actions taken by China in the South-China Sea. In brief, basically there are 4 (four) claim submitted by the Philippines before the PCA.[1] Firstly, the Philippines seek advice from the PCA to solve existing disputes over the SCS regarding the rights to occupy the SCS. More specifically, asking PCA to declare that the rights to occupy the SCS should be based on the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) rather than based on ‘historic rights’. Secondly, the Philippines seek advice from PCA to solve maritime delimitation disputes over the Scarborough Shoal and certain resources in Spratly Islands, which has been claimed by both Philippines and China. Thirdly, the Philippines asking the PCA to solve matter related to the validity of China’s claim over the SCS. The Philippines required PCA to deliver award that China has conducted wrong doing upon their actions, as follows:

a.Intervening Philippines’ rights in accordance with the LOSC with regard to fishing, navigation and other natural resources exploration and exploitation as well as the establishment of artificial islands;

b.Has failed to save ocean environment by giving support to China’s fishermen, who has caught the endangered species as well as the use of non-environmental friendly fishing method which lead to the destruction of coral reef ecosystem in the SCS; and

c.Causing the damage on marine environment by the establishment of artificial islands as well as reclamation in the area of seven coral reef areas in Spratly Islands.

Fourth, that China has worsened the dispute by limiting Philippines’ access to Marine Detachment in Second Thomas Shoal.

The SCS case between the Philippines and China, in fact involves various legal aspect. However, crucial aspect that worth to be discussed is the concept of ‘historical rights’ which has been used as legal basis by China in claiming its sovereignty over the SCS. As this turn out, PCA only used the LOSC as valid legal basis in deciding the case. PCA further stated that:

“This arbitration concerned the role of historic rights and the Sumber of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, the status of certain maritime features and the maritime entitlements they are capable of generating, and the lawfulness of certain actions by China that were alleged by the Philippines to violate the Convention. In light of limitations on compulsory dispute settlement under the Convention, the Tribunal has emphasized that it does not rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory and does not delimit any boundary between the Parties”. [2]

In its decision, PCA was unanimously giving award to the Philippines and declared that “the Tribunal concluded that, to the extent China had historic rights to reSumbers in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention. While the award clearly stated that ‘historical rights’ were incompatible with LOSC, it is interesting to find out the origin of ‘historic claim’ as well as analyzing whether the term ‘historic rights’ and ‘historic waters’ ever exist within both LOSC and other customary international law of the sea.

Figure 1: China’s nine-dashed lines covering vast majority of the SCS areas

Legal Implication on China’s refusal upon PCA Award

Upon PCA award, Chinese Government insists on the position that it will not obey PCA Award due its absence during the trial. This position was stated clearly by China through diplomatic notes titled “Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of Philippines”  dated 7th December submitted before the court and Netherlands Government. In sum, the diplomatic notes declared as follows:

“It is the view of China that the Arbitral Tribunal manifestly has no jurisdiction over this arbitration, unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, with regard to disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Firstly, the essence of the subject-matter of the arbitration is the territorial sovereignty over the relevant maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of the Convention and is consequently not concerned with the interpretation or application of the Convention.

Secondly, there is an agreement between China and the Philippines to settle their disputes in the South China Sea by negotiations, as embodied in bilateral instruments and the DOC. Thus the unilateral initiation of the present arbitration by the Philippines has clearly violated international law.

Thirdly, even assuming that the subject-matter of the arbitration did concern the interpretation or application of the Convention, it has been excluded by the 2006 declaration filed by China under Article 298 of the Convention, due to its being an integral part of the dispute of maritime delimitation between the two States.

Fourthly, China has never accepted any compulsory procedures of the Convention with regard to the Philippines’ claims for arbitration. The Arbitral Tribunal shall fully respect the right of the States Parties to the Convention to choose the means of dispute settlement of their own accord, and exercise its competence to decide on its jurisdiction within the confines of the Convention. The initiation of the present arbitration by the Philippines is an abuse of the compulsory dispute settlement procedures under the Convention. There is a solid basis in international law for China’s rejection of and non-participation in the present arbitration.

Furthermore, China added more statement “[t]his shall by no means be interpreted as China’s participation in the arbitral proceeding in any form.”  Upon such situation, Article 288 of the LOSC and Article 9 of LOSC’s Annex VII provide:

a.Article 288 of the Convention provides that “In the event of a dispute as to whether a court or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of that court or tribunal.

b.Article 9 of Annex VII to the Convention provides that “If one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make its award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings. Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.”

It is clearly stated that in the situation whether the arbitral have competence in deciding certain case, the authority to decide is the arbitral itself and not the parties. In addition to this, in the absence of one party in the dispute, another party have the right to ask the arbitral to continue the proceeding. Thus, it is submitted that the absence of one party cannot prevent the proceeding to be continued.             On the awards on jurisdiction, PCA considered the application of Article 281 and 282 of the LOSC, which allow a state to apply other dispute resolution method outside the LOSC, if the parties agreed to. Article 281 and 282 of the LOSC read:

“If the States Parties which are parties to a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention have agreed to seek settlement of the dispute by a peaceful means of their own choice, the procedures provided for in this Part apply only where no settlement has been reached by recourse to such means and the agreement between the parties does not exclude any further procedure.

If the States Parties which are parties to a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention have agreed, through a general, regional or bilateral agreement or otherwise, that such dispute shall, at the request of any party to the dispute, be submitted to a procedure that entails a binding decision, that procedure shall apply in lieu of the procedures provided for in this Part, unless the parties to the dispute otherwise agree.”

PCA considered the application of Article 281 dan 282 upon the following documents to find out whether both parties have agreed on other dispute resolution method; (a) the 2002 China–ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (the “DOC”), (b) a series of joint statements issued by the Philippines and China referring to the resolution of disputes through negotiations, (c) the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and (d) the Convention on Biological Diversity (the “CBD”) .

Nevertheless, PCA refused China’s argument which stated that the Document of Conduct (DOC) agreed between ASEAN and China was a political agreement and did not intended to be a binding agreement which is applicable in disputes resolution method.  Since the DOC is silent on the binding settlement mechanism,  and does not exclude any other dispute resolution method,  it is argued that PCA can decide based on Article 281 and 282 of the LOSC. PCA also finds out the same conclusion relating to Joint Statement mentioned in China Diplomatic Notes.  In relation to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the CBD, PCA declared that while both agreements bind parties in the disputes resolution chosen by the parties, there is no binding mechanism within the agreement whatsoever.  To conclude, there is nowhere in those agreements prevent the Philippines to bring the case before the PCA.

As this turn out, PCA reward the Philippines and declared that China’s Claim over the SCS with its nine-dashed lines as illegal and found China to be guilty of conducting illegal maritime activities inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Upon such award, as stated, China refused to apply the award in any cases. Furthermore, instead of moving away from the disputed area, Chinese military and non-military vessels have regularly undertaken activities to strengthen their de facto control of the area. China seems to undertaken the passive assertiveness over the area and avoiding assertive action which could lead to incident, while also expanding its movement in the SCS.  This condition brings several legal implications to the neighboring adjacent states surrounding the SCS, especially to ASEAN’s member states. This includes an increase of China’s maritime power within the South Asia region, which also effect the South-East Region.

In addition to this, it is assumes that China will strengthen its domestic law in claiming several areas in the SCS. This way, a potent disputes may arise between China and other claimant states, in particular ASEAN’s member states. China aggressive response to the PCA’s award might also bring further legal implication for less affected state like Indonesia. While the SCS dispute does not directly affected Indonesia at the moment, however, it might affected in the near future. As an archipelagic state, Indonesia is entitled to draw archipelagic baselines connecting the outermost point of its outermost islands.  Despite the fact that Indonesia does not claim any of the disputed islands located in the SCS, Indonesian has an outer island group, the Natuna Islands, which are adjacent to the SCS.  These Islands are used as Indonesian basepoints. Due to Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, consequently Indonesia has the rights over certain areas of waters measures from Natuna’s baselines in accordance with international law. From this baselines Indonesia also entitles various maritime zones established by the LOSC.

This results in the fact that Indonesia has to share such ocean with neighboring states which are also claimant states in the SCS dispute, namely Malaysia and Vietnam.  While agreement has been reached over delineating the continental shelf between states, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) delimitation remains unsolved. If China strengthen its nine-dashed line claim and keep asserting its military power within the area, it is possible that China and Indonesia involve in a disagreement on maritime delimitation around Natuna Islands.

Conclusion

Prior to the PCA’s award, Indonesian President, Mr. Joko Widodo, commented on the matter of the SCS disputes saying that while Indonesia is located considerably near to the SCS, yet Indonesia does not have a direct interest in the SCS. However, recent development shows different position. During President Jokowi’s visit to Natuna Islands recently, it was reminded that in 1996 China has recognized Natuna’s waters as Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This paper argued that while the SCS disputes so far does not have direct impact on Indonesia, yet, some areas of Indonesia’s EEZ in Natuna Islands overlap with the China’s nine-dash line. Since China has declared to refuse the award of PCA, Indonesia should make further legal and policy framework in implementing its sovereign rights over its EEZ in Natuna Islands. In addition to this strong political assertion should also be taken in anticipating china’s movement in the SCS through its nine-dash line claim.

  • [1] Read further Kristiyanto, Kristiyanto, Puspitawati, Dhianadan Ardhiansyah, Agis, Konsep Historical Rights dalam SengketaLaut Tiongkok Selatan berdasarkan Putusan PCA Case Number 2013-19 in the Matter of the South China Sea Arbitration between the Philippines and China, Final Essay, Law Faculty, Brawijaya University, 2017
  • [2] Press Release Permanent Court of Arbitration tertanggal 12 July 2016 which giving unanimous award to the Philippines over the SCS disputes.

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International Law

Omicron and Vaccine Nationalism: How Rich Countries Have Contributed to Pandemic’s Longevity

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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.             

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The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW): Wishful daydream or historic milestone?

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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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Regional Mechanisms of Human Rights: The Way Forward: Case of South Asia

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Long debates have evolved since the 1948 UDHR as to whether human rights should always be perceived as universal, or whether they need to be regarded as contextual on regional and local cultures. If we look at  Art. 2 of the UDHR the rights apply “with no distinction given to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Still in spite of this, the universality has been criticized by some, who argue that by claiming human rights are universal, we ignore and undermine the cultural differences that exist between societies in different parts of the world

Historically, the first written evidence of human rights was found in the famous universal declaration in 1215 A.D., popularly known as the ‘Magna Carta’. Along with the same, there were many thinkers like Hobbes, Locke Rousseau, Milton, and Voltaire who argued in favour of  individual rights and with passage of time and the conclusion of two world wars, the United Nations Organisation came into being on 24th October 1945 that replaced the League of Nations.

Further, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1948 and is considered a milestone in the field of human rights whose primary aim is to protect and promote human rights. In contrast to the said aim, the critics of the UDHR label it as a Western-biased document that fails to account for the cultural norms and values which exist in the rest of the world. It is only with regard to a group of certain core rights like that are listed in the human rights treaties as ‘non-derogable rights’ or considered jus cogens such as the prohibition of the use of force, the law of genocide, the principle of racial non- discrimination, crimes against humanity, and the rules prohibiting trade in slaves and piracy that consensus among nations exist.

The core of the issue is that a group of nations are seeking to redefine the content of the term “human rights” according to their own social and cultural experiences as they argue that the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration reflect Western values and not their own. These countries sign many international human rights treaties and conventions, but the use of reservations and internal obstacles

jeopardize their implementation. Such claims of social and cultural differences in the past have been dismissed by the western countries and the USA who dismissed such claims as being a screen behind which authoritarian governments can perpetuate abuses.

Coming to South Asian Nations, there does exist violations of human rights in India as there is an absence of any regional framework that can hold the government responsible for the acts committed or provide a forum to individuals to appeal against the decisions of the Courts like the one existing under European Court of Human Rights. To illustrate, the aspect of women’s rights needs consideration and improvement in the daily lives of women to meet the gap between formal rights and actual implementation of the same.  What this means is that there exists a necessity to focus on translating the universal values enshrined under International human rights to local contexts that is the only option available to human beings irrespective of the geographical location to the ideals of equality and freedom from discrimination

In this context, there arises a need for establishing regional and sub- regional human rights codes or conventions. This has also been recognized by the United Nations since in absence of a universal approach that the South Asian states refuse to adopt, it is through regional initiatives that the motives of human rights could be achieved. The need for a regional initiative becomes even more significant because unlike Europe, America, and Africa there is no inter-governmental regional system for human rights protection in South Asia. In practice, the reason cited is that the human rights debate revolves around the South Asian views or perspectives. Although the South Asian governments have ratified international human rights instruments, they fail to reflect in the national constitutions or laws of most governments.

The fact that human rights will enjoy certain specificity in South Asia, still to be elaborated and applied, however, does not mean less for the universality of human rights. The reason being that the international human rights do not originate from merely one homogenous European value system or culture, but from various heterogeneous sources, some of these existing in the long history of South Asia. Thus, human rights are universal not only in their applicability to all human beings in every corner of the world, but are also universal because they originated from every corner in the world.

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