Connect with us

International Law

Legal framework of the Caspian Sea and the interests of Iran

Published

on

Authors: Javad Heirannia and Omid Shokri Kalehsar*

In international law, the concept of power is inevitably alongside with the principles of the law.

In other words, since there is no judiciary reference in the international judiciary conflicts, the law is affected by the concept of power in international system. There are different opinions about the relationship between power and law.

Different legal schools of thought differ in their views towards the relativity of power and rights.

Realists believe that power is the main core of international law and takes the main role in the basic norms and principles of international law and relations. So; law should be in compliant with national interests and accordingly it takes prominence. Contrary to realists, scholars from the Yale University Law School do not accept power as the core of international law and emphasize global social commonalities instead of the traditional notion of power. But in general, we cannot ignore the role of power in creating international rules among governments.

Therefore, due to the importance of power in politics, when we want to determine Caspian Sea legal status, at the same time that we pay attention to previous legal contracts, including the treaties of 1921 and 1940 between Iran, Russia and the former Soviet Union, we have to also consider the political conditions. According to the text of an agreement between the presidents of Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, signed on August 5 in Aktau, Kazakhstan, the five countries agreed on issues such as military, security, shipping and economic matters, but delineating seabed and sub-seabed postponed to bilateral agreements between countries. However, the announcement of the signing of an agreement between the government of Iran and the other four countries after nearly three decades of the collapse of the Soviet Union Led to the critical reactions of many Iranians, especially those saying that Iran had enjoyed 50% share of Caspian Sea during the former Soviet Union.

Russo-Persian Treaty of Friendship (1921), Treaty of Commerce and Navigation (1940)

The 1921 treaty is one of the agreements between Iran and Russia on the Caspian Sea. According to the treaty, the Caspian Sea is a common sea between Iran and Russia, both enjoying equal rights of free navigation. According to Article 40 of the treaty, 10 miles were considered as an exclusive fishing zone and the rest was shared between Iran and Russia. Of course, in this treaty, Iran was requested to surrender fishing privilege to Russia to help Russian livelihoods, and the privilege was awarded to them in 1925 for 25 years. But Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, did not extend the second period of 25 years, although the Soviets continued fishing in all areas and waters of the Caspian, but Iran was usually fishing only in the coastal zone. This continued, and although the fishing privilege for the Russians was not renewed, Russia and Iran both operated at the sea.

Before signing 1921 contract, only the Russians could have military naval forces in the Caspian on the basis of Treaty of Turkmenchay and Treaty of Gulistan, the privilege of which was awarded to Russians by two above-mentioned treaties. In fact, after the oppressive and one-sided Treaty of Turkmenchay and Gulistan between Iran and Tsardom in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, 1921 contract between Iran and the Russian government was the first formal agreement with almost equal status in the Caspian Sea. But the 1940 contract was a little different from the 1921 in which the Russians set to be in a higher position in the contract clinched during Stalin and Iran, the difference of which is totally clear by contrasting them. Parts of the 1940 treaty were on commercial and customs rights between the two countries and other clauses were about the shipping rights of the two sides over the Caspian Sea. The position of Iran in this contract was slightly better than the one in what were signed during the Tsardom of the Russian era.

Dividing the seabed and sub-seabed; ignoring Iran’s viewpoints

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the founding of the Russian Federation, three other new countries around the Caspian Sea were created from the Soviet heritage, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Although Iran and Russia at this stage were set for the Caspian Sea to treat a shared one, the Russians took a dual stance in this case. In this regard, Russia from one side stroke a bilateral deal with Kazakhstan in 1988 dividing the northern seabed and its resources and from the other side clinched similar contract with the Republic of Azerbaijan. It led to Iran’s protest maintaining that because both countries enjoy the joint ownership of the Caspian Sea, then any decisions have to be taken jointly in this regard.

According to the joint ownership principle, resources are considered jointly and therefore would have to be divided equally based on an agreement signed by all the Caspian coastal countries. Hence, what the Russians did in dividing Caspian seabed and its resources bilaterally ran contrary to joint ownership principle. In fact, when we consider the Caspian Sea as a common sea, all the resources of this sea are divided equally among all members. Therefore, the Russians’ attempts to conclude bilateral agreements and the division of the continental shelf is contrary to the being common sea of the Caspian.

Under Mohammad Khatami, the then president of Iran, it was proposed that the Caspian Sea be divided equally having 20% share by each coastal country, but four others did not accept the offer, after which Iran declared that it will not allow any interference by other countries in 20% of its adjacent waters So, the Russian vessel left waters of Iran. Since that time, Iran has emphasized its 20% share, but Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were dissatisfied with this situation, especially in the Alborz field with oil resources, making it a dispute and the disagreement has prolonged so far.

After Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement on the Caspian Sea, Iran declared to continue governing its 20% share of waters as long as its share with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is not determined well.

After the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated: “There are still issues in the southern part of the sea between Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. We had good agreements with Azerbaijan that are in operation, but some of these issues have not been resolved yet. At the recent Caspian Summit, some serious issues concerning Iran and many other countries were resolved the most important of which was security in the Caspian Sea.

)https://www.mehrnews.com/news/4375492(

The talks between Iran and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Caspian Sea have been Unsuccessful. Recently, Russia has announced a new plan with coastal states accepting it with the exception ofIran. According to the Russian plan, 15 miles would be considered as the territorial sea and 10 more miles as the exclusive fishing zone. The surface water would be for shared shipping, but seabed and sub-seabed resources are divided according to the 1998 contract.

In Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Caspian Sea navigation was calculated according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea(1982). According to the Convention, 15 miles considered as coastal waters and 10 miles as the exclusive fishing zone putting the rest as a common area. This means that the sovereign right of Iran in the Caspian will be less than 13%.

Because the Caspian Sea doesn’t have any link to open waters, it is in fact considered as a great lake the rules of which are regulated on the basis of the coastal states multilateral agreements.

Based on Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, the baseline of the Caspian Sea has been identified; therefore, it is impossible for Iran to determine its share of the seabed and sub-seabed resources in upcoming negotiations. Also, since the deeper part of the Caspian Sea is located in the southern part, the Iranian side, Iran’s share of internal waters will be much less. In the other words, Iran’s baseline in Caspian Sea will not be so distant from the coast, something that can bring about security consequences for the country.

Sharing seabed and sub-seabed in accordance with bilateral agreements among other countries expect for Iranis detrimental to Tehran. However, when the rule over a sea is deemed as joint ownership, its mineral resources, oil and gas are to be taken into consideration fully and then the achieved interests are divided among 5 countries. According to the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the areas beyond the territorial waters and exclusive fishing zone of each country are to be known as a common or joint zone. In this case, the use of seabed resources in the Caspian Sea remains unclear.

This is especially true in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, because the fate of the resources in the northern part of the Caspian Sea is determined in the bi-and-trilateral agreements of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. So, the existing disputes are only among Iran with two countries including Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. As a result, declaring the area beyond the territorial waters and the exclusive fishing zone as a joint ownership means destroying the sovereignty of Iran over the energy field of the Alborz in the Caspian Sea. Based on bilateral agreements signed between Russians with Kazakhstan and then with Azerbaijan and also between Kazakhstan with Turkmenistan in 1998, seabed and sub-seabed resources were divided between themselves, making the share of Iran negligible.

Russia, in fact, by signing the above bilateral contracts violated the joint ownership agreed upon with Iran and the case ended in Tehran’s detriment. Since the presidency of Khatami, Iran has emphasized that it has 20% share in Caspian Sea and announced not to allow others to do any kind of activity in its territorial waters. That’s why the Azerbaijani oil operation in the joint oil field with Iran was stopped. While before Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Iran rejected the joint exploitation with Azerbaijan, Tehran approved 50-50 division of the oil field of Alborz with the country in this convention.

One of the criticisms leveled against Aktau convention is that the determination of the share of each Caspian coastal state in the seabed and sub- seabed and put to future bilateral negotiations.

In other words, the convention only discusses surface water and since the convention has determined the baseline, Iran cannot determine its share in seabed and sub-seabed.

Of course, the Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement calls for a revision of the previous bilateral agreements between 4other Caspian Sea states, which can be in Iran’s favor. The review not to be based on the length of the beaches, since the contracts of 1921 and 1940 were not based on the length of the coasts, but all the sea was reckoned as common. Therefore, Iran’s share in Seabed and sub- Seabed resources should be more than what is now mentioned in the Aktau convention. Accordingly, if there is a review in the agreement, it can make a revision in Iran’s right and share in the Caspian Sea. While, due to the ordinary practice that making any decision is based on bi-and-multilateral negotiations, bilateral agreements clinched between some coastal countries have led to the violation of Iran’s rights in the Caspian Sea.

“Taking dual role, unfriendly and sensitive-inducing of Russia in the issue as well as sharing method of seabed based on bilateral agreements with new adjacent neighbors is one of the most important reasons Iran encounters a crucial problem in the Caspian Sea whereof”, Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes. In reaction to Russia on dividing the resources of the Caspian sub-seabed without any coordination with Tehran, Iran announced that the final acceptance of the Caspian Sea enjoying joint ownership in the legal regime is conditional to determine the Caspian sub-seabed resources. This is while Iran for the first time formally abandoned the condition at the second meeting of the Caspian Sea in Tehran accepting the joint ownership of everything in the Caspian Sea but the sub-seabed tacitly.

Iran also accepted the crossing of the pipeline and energy transmission through the Caspian Sea in the Aktau agreement. This is while the crossing from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan could have been done through Iran instead. Consequently, from one hand, Iran lost this opportunity and on the other hand, accepting the crossing of the pipeline through the Caspian Sea will have environmental risks. Regarding security issues, The Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement says that the Caspian Sea is not a military one, resolving Iran and Russia’s concerns over the presence of NATO in the sea. Of course, the very issue was in the previous treaties, but it was discussed more extensively in the Kazakhstan Convention. So, foreign powers cannot run for any military and naval bases on the Caspian shore and making any threats against other coastal states.

Prior to the Aktau agreement, When Iran had any disagreement over the Caspian Sea, it relied on both historical background and the 1921 treaties with Russia and 1940 treaties with the Soviet Union. Iran has always put emphasis on this historical background making its status one of two historical claimants of the Caspian Sea. Iran ignored these two historical contracts in Aktau convention by giving them up in its text.

Earlier, during the formal declaration of Tehran Summit, being the first joint document of the five leaders, no reference was made to the above-mentioned historical background and contracts.

The President of Kazakhstan formally stated in his speech that the previous treaties over the Caspian Sea have become null and void making it deemed accepted indirectly by Iran’s silence.

The newly independent coastal states are not interested in the historical background of the Caspian Sea, so they are trying to forgo the historical claimants of the two countries -Iran and the Soviet Union. They are more willing to Institutionalize the trends of the five countries instead of the historical background, but this doesn’t justify Iran’s withdrawal from its substantiated claims on the Caspian Sea.

“Iran could at least register its own stance alone concerning the historical background of its claims on the Caspian Sea in Tehran Summit putting emphasis on it. Therefore, it is really unclear why such a negligence was made in spite of the great importance of these backgrounds over Iran’s endless legal disputes over the Caspian Sea.” Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes.

*Omid Shokri Kalehsar, Senior Energy Security Analyst

Ph.D Student of International relations in Islamic Azad niversity،Science and Research Branch (Iran) Visiting Fellow of the Persian Gulf Department in the Center for Middle East Studies

Continue Reading
Comments

International Law

Submarine Cables: The Global Data Infrastructure and International Law of the Sea

Published

on

Image source: indiatoday.in

As a lay person, it is a common perception that data and communication signals travel through multiple satellite systems orbiting around the earth. However, this is a grave misconception. As one writer puts it, “but that the communication signals themselves are then broken into bits of data, which then ply the ocean depths at the speed of light via unseen cables, is hard to imagine.”[1] The reality is that 99% of the world’s communication data is currently moving through hidden undersea cables. These are now befittingly called as the “Out-of-Sight Arteries of Globalization”.[2] These submarine cables are functioning as a global infrastructure for the movement of inter alia big data, communication signals, phone traffic and even financial capital around the world. During the past decade, the weaknesses and gaps in the protection of these underwater fiber-optic cables under International law has come to the fore. This article is aimed at critically analyzing the vulnerability in International law to protect these global underwater data highways.

History & Background

In the year 1858, the first transatlantic subsea cable was laid down between Ireland and Newfoundland which snapped 26 days later.[3] In the year 1864, another transatlantic cable was placed between the same territories and this time it proved to be successful. Following this success, there was no looking back and submarine cables were placed between various territories along the seabed of the Pacific Ocean.[4] Interestingly, the transmission speeds for these first telegraph cables were 12 words per minute which increased exponentially to 200 words per minute by the 1920’s. The invention of the telephone expanded the reliance on these transcontinental cables. From the beginning of the 1950’s until  the late 1960’s underwater coaxial cables dominated intercontinental voice communications.[5]

It was the invention of satellite systems during the 1970’s which greatly reduced the reliance on subsea cables for use in communication technologies. Although the satellite systems dominated the telecommunications world for more than a decade, they were soon replaced by the invention of fiber-optic cables. Fiber-optic cables were more capacious in carrying vast amounts of data and signals as compared to coaxial cables of the bygone days.[6] The first fiber-optic cable was laid down in the year 1986. As of 2019, there are 241 active and distinct fiber-optic subsea cables which are mapping a length of 1.1 million kilometers (km) of the seabed.[7] One writer points out the dominance of undersea cables over satellites by the fact that if they were to stop transmitting then “only 7% of the total United States data traffic volume could be carried by satellite”.[8]

Global Significance & Issue of “Materiality”

Subsea cables are a crucial part of the digital economy, making flows and exchanges of data possible. Astonishingly, they are considered to be intangible, immaterial and un-territorial under the international legal framework.[9] It is understandable that an average person using the internet is unaware about the physical aspect of data transmission. However, International law and its supremacy is founded upon physical objects and materiality. International law experts are now increasingly engaging in such a method of analysis as compared to archetypical theoretical frameworks. Hohmann and Joyce explain that “in revealing the deep entanglements of international law and the material things around us, we can begin to understand how international law structures and disciplines its subjects—and sets the contours for the possibilities and limits of our lives—through objects.”[10]

It is absolutely imperative that International law recognizes the physicality of undersea cables which are now deeply intertwined with the social, economic, legal and technological orders of a digital age. International law and its dominance is moulded by the physical infrastructures which are an important factor in the growth of modern digital economies. Undersea cables are now the subject of competition and struggle between both state and non-state actors (e.g developers and corporations). These struggles include title, control, access and territorial sovereignty.[11] All these fall within the ambit of International law, and efforts must be made to enable a fair regulation.

International Legal Framework and Challenges

The protection and security of subsea cables has been the subject matter of at least seven different international conventions between late 19th century and the beginning of 20th century. It all started with “The Convention for the Protection of Submarine Telegraph Cables (1884)” which was inked in Paris. The 1884 convention was applicable in the territorial waters of the signatory states, making the damage of such cables a punishable offense.[12] The primary purpose of this treaty was to encourage the stakeholder States to promulgate domestic legislation protecting these cables.

The World moved on from the Telegraph to the Telephone, but these undersea cables remained of cardinal importance in communication technology. These cables were an agenda topic in the United Nations International Law Commission (ILC) on the law of the sea. In the International Law Conference of the Sea (1958), three articles relevant to the protection of subsea cables were incorporated into the Geneva Convention of the Law of the Sea (1958).[13] It was also agreed that the provisions of the 1958 conventions will not affect any previous treaties (which included the 1884 convention).[14]

In the year 1973, the UN held a third conference to debate upon the law of the seas and this subsequently resulted in the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS)”. This time again, three provisions (Articles 113 to 115) specifically addressed the protection of undersea cables. Unfortunately, neither the 1982 UNCLOS nor its predecessor treaties could correctly envisage the importance of submarine cables to a digital age.

Pursuant to Art. 21 and 113 of the UNCLOS, littoral states have the authority to enact domestic legislation to protect the subsea cables or any other conduit that lay beneath their territorial waters. States are under no obligation to enact such legislation, and for this reason, most of the littoral states have abstained from doing so. Many studies and reviews have found that there exists little or no domestic legislation which criminalizes any damage caused to such cables.[15]

In addition to this, there does not exist a legal regime which could potentially prosecute offenders who damage undersea cables which are located in the high seas. The UNCLOS limits the jurisdictional protection to flag-bearer vessels.[16] This implies that littoral states could prosecute foreign vessels for damaging fiber-optic cables within its territorial waters, but not otherwise. As a result, there exist significant lacunae in the prosecutions of intentional or negligent damage of such important infrastructure. It is clear that the undersea cables are more prone to nefarious designs to disrupt communications by the foreign vessels of adversary states in the high seas. In terms of technological advancements, the data transmission network has moved forward by leaps and bounds. Legally, the International framework has failed to keep up.

Conclusion

In a modern digital world, these hidden subsea cables are a site of politics, power, communication and most importantly contestation. These cables may prima facie be an invisibility. But the real importance of an invisibility lies in the phenomenon it enshrouds. It is about time that International law recognizes that global digital economies are functioning and prospering through a hidden network of key infrastructure which needs better and impenetrable protection.


[1] Douglas R. Burnett & Lionel Carter, International Submarine Cables and Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction: The Cloud Beneath the Sea, BRILL RESEARCH PERSPECTIVES IN THE LAW OF THE SEA, 3 (2017).

[2] Surabhi Ranganathan, The Out-of-Sight Arteries of Globalization, Visualizing Climate and Loss, http://histecon.fas.harvard.edu/climate-loss/lawofthesea/arteries.html

[3] Lionel Carter & Douglas R. Burnett, Subsea Telecommunications, in ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF OCEAN RESOURCES AND MANAGEMENT, 349, 350 (Hance D. Smith, et al. eds., 2015)

[4] Stewart Ash, The Development of Submarine Cables, in SUBMARINE CABLES: THE HANDBOOK OF LAW AND POLICY

[5] Lionel Carter & Douglas R. Burnett, Subsea Telecommunications, in ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF OCEAN RESOURCES AND MANAGEMENT, 349, 350 (Hance D. Smith, et al. eds., 2015)

[6] Ibid

[7] Working Group 8 Submarine Cable Routing & Landing, Final Report – Protection of Submarine Cables Through Spatial Separation, THE COMMUNICATIONS SECURITY, RELIABILITY & INTEROPERABILITY COUNCIL IV, 1

[8] Stephen C. Drew & Alan G. Hopper, Fishing and Submarine Cables: Working Together, International Cable Protection Committee (February 23, 2009) at 8, available at https://www.iscpc.org/publications/

[9] Territoriality and Intangibility: Transborder Data Flows and National Sovereignty, in Beyond National Sovereignty: International Communication in the 1990s 259 (Kaarle Noerdenstreng & Herbert I. Schiller eds., 1993)

[10] International Law’s Objects, 2 (Jessie Hohmann & Daniel Joyce eds., 2019).

[11] Jeremy Page, Kate O’Keeffe & Rob Taylor, America’s Undersea Battle With China for Control of the Global Internet Grid, Wall Street J. (Mar. 12, 2019)

[12] George Grafton Wilson, The Law of Territorial Waters, 23 AM. J. INT’L. L. 2, 241-380 (Apr 1929)

[13] Eric Wagner, Submarine cables and protections provided by the law of the sea, 19 MARINE POLICY 2, 127, 135 (Mar. 1995)

[14] Convention of the High Sea, Apr. 29 1958, 450 U.N.T.S. 11 (codifying this provision at Article 30, excerpted here: “The provisions of this Convention shall not affect conventions or other international agreements already in force, as between States Parties to them.”)

[15] Robert Beckman, Protecting Submarine Cables from Intentional Damage, in SUBMARINE CABLES: THE

HANDBOOK OF LAW AND POLICY

[16] UNCLOS (1982), Art. 27

Continue Reading

International Law

Locating Sustainable Migration Framework in a Globalized World beyond the UNCSR

Published

on

Photo Credit: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

The traditional understanding of refugee protection and safeguards enshrined in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (UNCSR) with its 1967 Additional Protocol has come to a tipping point. The current scenarios of mixed human migration have given a new term that defines the “new refugee” as “migrant” due to the imprecise distinction between refugee and migrant in the wake of enlarging protections and expanded challenges to the refugee interpretation under UNCSR. Today, mixed human migration has become the determinant factor to critically appreciate the experiences, familiar routes, and intentions of refugees and migrants and threats to the protection system in the wake of emerging populist radicalism in the Global North and Global South with equal intensity. Such radical trends are generally backed by the majoritarian political discourse in constitutional democracies. But such revanchist patterns could only be contained by the re-mainstreaming of liberalism in our geopolitical identities.

New Categories in a Globalized World

Thus, the mixed human migration has necessitated the creation of new categories beyond the traditional understanding provided in UNCSR. Historically, the remarkable distinction between “refugee” and “migrant” is based on the institutional recognition of the notion that the refugee enjoys an elevated status in the framework of international law. However, the nation-states and inter-governmental mechanisms attend refugees based on the thresholds of gravity of refugee situations on a particular occasion. Consequently, such arrangements recognize the “refugees” and derecognize the “economic migrant.” However, in reality, it has now become a well-established understanding that such divisions between these categories are difficult to make in a globalized world. Alexander Betts has written about people who flee hostile circumstances and called such flight “survival migration,” especially from unstable nation-states, situations of socioeconomic violations, and climate change-driven displacement that have not yet been recognized as refugees under UNCSR. Unfortunately, there is no political understanding among the UN member states to broaden the limits of the UNCSR definition of a refugee by creating the new protection categories. Therefore, it is imperative in the present scenario to defend the existing “refugee” category, and nation-states strive to extend protection under international human rights treaties to other groups of vulnerable migrants fleeing persecution beyond UNCSR.

Global Compacts on Refugees & Migration

The origin of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and Global Compact on Migration (GCM) is knotty as a global political project. Primarily, in late 2015, the strategy was to conclude and adopt a comprehensive plan of action for Syrian refugees and Mediterranean routes of refugees who have created a refugee crisis in Europe. Therefore, global institutional politics and other multiple reasons paved the way to adopt such a plan of action in January 2016 for organizing an international conference in New York in September 2016 with the mandate to have GCR. Simultaneously, other world institutions also hard-pressed for a similar arrangement called GCM to create equilibrium for proportionate protection. Such segregation was required due to the organizational distribution of business within the UN system. Therefore, the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) was mandated to act upon and implement GCR.

In contrast, Switzerland and Mexico have co-supervised the parallel GCM programme and its modalities for implementation. Though these Global Compacts have common characteristics, gaps, and intersections mainly, there is small space for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and transnational displacement that has not been recognized in the refugee definition. But UNHCR has proposed specific plans for implementing GCM that incorporate significant steps for migrants in vulnerable conditions. As a result, these Global Compacts have been playing relatively different roles as GCR attempts to address the gaps in the UNCSR by ensuring fundamental principles of humanity and international solidarity and strives to implement the principles of burden-and-responsibility-sharing (BARS) for refugee protection, assisting the refugees and supporting the refugee-hosting countries and communities. On the other hand, GCM provides a nascent global migration governance system as a first step. GCM is an intergovernmental agreement brokered by the UN that addresses all dimensions of global migration holistically and comprehensively and confronts the challenges relating to the worldwide movement by strengthening the contribution and engagement of migrants to sustainable development.

The Role of UNHCR & Shifting Global Debate

The position of UNHCR has become challenging as it confronts a multitude of constraints such as cuts in the humanitarian budget by the US, widespread non-compliance with the UNCSR and its Additional Protocol, and the emergence of institutional rivalry with the entry of IOM in the UN system. However, UNHCR has taken a restrained approach and deliberately excluded many parts from the current global debate on GCR, particularly Lego-institutional reforms. The GCR’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), Global Refugee Forum (GRF), and a string of Solitary Platforms provide the foundation for the philosophy of change and emplace global arrangement for international cooperation and addressing particular refugee crises. These institutional arrangements in the GCR framework, like CRRF and GRF, stipulate a new development-based and market-driven model of operation with a lot of pragmatism. GCR is an itinerary of actions and actors entrusted to implement the BARS and the entire ambit of modes of contribution on the part of stakeholders. The GCR is a remarkable achievement in its normative and substantive significance and commitments, provided it is executed on the ground. The CRRF has been showing positive results in Ethiopia and Kenya. However, it is the political leadership that has to determine new commitments and promises.

In the present scenario, international institutions require the exceptional and unprecedented capacity to lead collective action based on moral yet pragmatic parleys and diplomacies. World history is a testimony that non-binding intangible and universal commitments of the nation-states incommensurate with the international refugee regime do not serve a significant purpose. At least five to eight years must be demarcated to assess the impact of the Global Compacts on the ground. To do an impact assessment of GCR and GCM along with durable solutions, there are numerous refugee situations like Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and India, Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, Syrian refugees in Europe, Lebanon and Jordan, Mexican refugees in the US, Somali refugees, Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and Brazil, Afro-Asian refugees in Canada and Tibetan refugees in India. Though the GCM stipulates principles only, it has to evolve its intellectual contours in its initial stages to establish a global migration governance system, and its institutionalization will consume years ahead. However, the GCM is a remarkable achievement that has made migration a head-on agenda item for the UN system.

Global Refugee System: A Critique

Off late, UNHCR has not been innovative and inventive for an expansion of alternatives for refugee protection. It has adopted a guarded approach under which several issues have been put on hold. For long, UNHCR has been avoiding institutional reforms and keeping the refugee definition out of its re-consideration and re-formulation in tune with the current objections by the Global South countries. UNCSR refugee definition is the most significant contention of the Global South countries. It is a Eurocentric formulation and does not cater to the needs of the refugee people from the Global South nation-states. As a whole, the UNCSR regime is regarded as a Global North project imposed on Global South countries. Presently, many UNHCR personnel acquiesce in institutional politics, and the threat has been looming upon them that might jeopardize refugee protection. In such a pessimistic atmosphere, the GCR and CRRF provide a ray of hope for refugee protection. But there would be numerous geostrategic and geopolitical challenges such as the metamorphosis in the thresholds of global world order in terms of the recalibration and transformation of goal-posts of international power politics, the impact of socioeconomic praxis, the emergence of the artificial intelligence in RSD, and immigration procedures, and resurgence of far-right and nihilistic nationalism for minorities, and LGBTQI groups worldwide. Therefore, UNHCR has to continue to adapt to the changing circumstances, particularly by developing and re-crafting its capability for political leadership along with the existing humanitarian leadership in the context of global restrictionism.

Mixed Migration: A Divide between Principles and Pragmatics

The normative understanding of refugee protection and their human rights must not be sandwiched between principles and pragmatics of the regulatory approach. It is the cause of refugee protection that must alone prevail in global institutional priorities, intergovernmental primacies, and political urgencies in any given situation. But the divide between principles and pragmatics of refugee protection has been increasingly widening at an unprecedented scale that has made the UNCSR partially irrelevant, and several governments do not feel embarrassed with their public apathy towards refugees. Even though, immigration has squarely benefited and enriched the host countries of the Global North by building societies based on multiculturalism, pluralism, and cosmopolitanism. However, the political advocacy of right-wing nationalism in Australia, Canada, Europe, the US, South Asia, South-East Asia, and elsewhere conveys that the Global North has been incriminating immigration in the name of pragmatism by undermining the principles of migration.

The far-right nationalism breeds backlash and xenophobia. There is a need to repulse the anti-immigration surge. Global migration is, prima facie, not an immigration narrative alone; instead, it is, predominantly, impregnated with refugee dimensions that have to be dealt with under UNCSR and GCR instead of restrictive immigration laws. Because when immigration law stops, refugee law begins. Immigration law is based on nationalism, and refugee law is based on globalism. The global principles of the rule of law must comport with secular democracy, inclusive human rights, and liberal pluralism. These principles must get the support of the electorates in all geopolitical entities across the world. Such steps will guard these principles from far-right-wing politicians who are hell-bent on eroding universal liberal values. Therefore, the international community must reconcile the idea of liberal internationalism with the notion of secular democracy; otherwise, humanity would not be able to defeat the resurgent Frankenstein of international politics.

Global Public Perception & Sustainable Migration Framework

The global public perception suffers from the fear and impact of the increasing population of refugees and migrants, and Global North countries are reluctant to host them. There are 84 million displaced people worldwide, and out of them, 26.6 million are refugees (as of mid-2021). However, the challenge is greater geographical concentration as 85% of refugees live in low and middle-income countries, and 60% are present in just ten countries. Meanwhile, global migration trends have been mostly steady in terms of proportion to the global population since the 1970s, although the statistics of the people have increased from 70 million to 240 million. However, the refugee crisis has never been a crisis of statistical data; rather, it is the crisis of international politics and trust deficit among the comity of nations. The people of Global North countries are skeptical and fearful of socio-cultural transformation due to the triggering of structural changes with the arrival of refugees. Such changes cause the loss of low-skilled manufacturing jobs, starting of the politics of austerity, and politics-driven campaigns by the far-right-wing politicians in the host countries. In such a situation, the global community must develop a sustainable migration framework based on migrants-oriented policies that address both host and transit countries in equal measures.

One of the biggest challenges in the current world order is reconciling democracy with globalization in the wake of anti-migrant populism in Global North and Global South countries with equal far-right ferocity? It is, indeed, a significant challenge to preserve the optimism in the present world where electoral choices are expressed with technology, and sovereign citizens demand the re- endorsement and re-statement of national sovereignty in all its manifestations. Therefore, such integration of democracy and globalization needs a substantial amount of creativity that includes a new perception about normal human mobility and forced migration. Such optimism needs farsighted global governance supported by institutions and subsidiary organizations of the UNO, regional and other inter-governmental organizations. However, such a possibility right now is absent due to the international orders increasingly becoming more and more obstructive and deterring human mobility. There is a need to have collective measures to address the problem of the exodus of hybrid migration resulting in a backlash in the destination countries. It further jeopardizes the lives of people taking strenuous and frantic travels in search of safer refuge. Such reckless journeys become the cause of mushrooming of criminal syndicates indulging in human trafficking and criminalizing migration networks that mount a massive burden upon the capabilities of refugee-hosting countries while chipping away the thresholds of refugee safety.

Way Forward

On the basis of our cumulative experiences, there is a need to re-imagine the innovative and inventive refugee protection proscenium to respond to grisly human migration in all continents and countries. But it must not be devoid of the principles of Global Human Rights Constitutionalism, and it must discard the discourse of popular nationalism that is anarchist, narcissist, nihilist, and exclusionary in its treatment of RAMS (refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, stateless). The current Globalized World needs the re-validation and re-assertion of diversity, dignity, multiculturalism and liberal values of the yore. It is an age requiring arrangements for integrating the contesting and opposing interests across the political spectrum in all geopolitical enties. Such measures demand audacious actions, quixotic visions and re-embracing of human rights liberalism beyond the rubrics of UNCSR.

Continue Reading

International Law

UNCTAD Report: Revisiting Old Issues in Managing Cross-Border Data Flows

Published

on

Today, information space has become a field of confrontation involving major digital platforms, governments, societies and individual users. Stories featuring latest cyberattacks or state-sponsored attempts to limit the influence of social networks and regulate the digital sphere, where there is no governance at the international level, are those that grab the headlines of many online media outlets.

Given the current climate, it is then no surprise that the United Nations is paying close attention to the issues related to the digital domain. On September 29, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development released its Digital Economy Report 2021, which focuses on the issue of managing cross-border data flows. The piece is rather comprehensive in terms of the issues covered, seeking to analyze the inhibiting factors that prevent us from working out an exhaustive definition of what “data” is, while exploring the specific approaches of states to regulating cross-border data flows. The report’s authors pay particular attention to the digital divide that has emerged between developed and developing nations. That said, we would argue that the report is more of a descriptive paper rather than a real step towards erecting a system of global governance.

The first section of the report addresses the lack of clarity on the definition of “data”, whether in research or among practitioners. With no unified terminology, communication between stakeholders appears to be complicated, much as the process of designing public policy as regards the digital sphere. A generally accepted and unified terminology would no doubt make it easier to foster closer cooperation, although this is certainly not a defining prerequisite. International efforts to fight against terrorism can be a case in point here, as there is no conventional definition of “terrorism,” while this does not hinder inter-state cooperation, both regionally and globally. While this cooperation may not always proceed smoothly, any problems encountered tend to be the upshot of political squabbles rather than the implications of the fact that no single definition of “terrorism” is to be found.

The UNCTAD report brings up another underlying premise, which is that data should be treated as a global public good. This will allow citizens, acting as “producers” of raw data, to claim the benefits of it being used by digital platforms. This issue has already been discussed at the EU, with the approach tested in a number of cities. Transferring some control over the flow of data from corporations to users is an important step towards ensuring that human rights are upheld in the digital environment.

The UNCTAD report also explores the technological and digital divide, whose dimensions span developed and developing countries as well as urban and rural areas within a particular country. This problem is nothing new: it was only last year when UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to the need to bridge the gap, arguing that it was instead widening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, he proposed a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

Besides, the report notes the massive impact of digital platforms. These, the authors believe, “are no longer just digital platforms” but “global digital corporations” that have the necessary capabilities for processing information, which puts them in a privileged position. Further, digital platforms are able to influence policymaking through lobbying their interests. In terms of spending, Facebook and Amazon are the most active lobbyists in the United States, while Google, Facebook and Microsoft are the biggest spenders in Europe. The report suggests that the privileged position of digital corporations—such as their ability to process massive bulks of data and derive profit from raw information—leads to something of an imbalance between the private and the public sectors when it comes to recruiting talent. Accordingly, the gap is widening, which means that the tech giants are moving even further out in front.

Finally, fragmentation of the digital space into competing models of managing cross-border data flows is another challenge to the digital domain and its prospects. Should such fragmentation occur, this may create new obstacles to communication and economic development, as the existing models (those of the U.S., the EU, Russia, China and India) offer different regulatory practices that have their own flaws and inefficiencies. The report identifies the broad shortcomings of these practices, making note of poor coordination between government agencies; ambiguous formulations deliberately used to denote key concepts (such as “critical infrastructure” or “digital sovereignty”); and setting unrealistically high technical requirements, including the requirement to store personal data locally—something that entails greater costs for smaller businesses and is detrimental to end consumers of digital products and services.

The Digital Economy Report implies the solution lies in establishing a new institutional framework to meet the challenge of global governance in the digital domain. This new institution should contain the “appropriate mix of multilateral, multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary engagement.” At the same time, the report argues for ad hoc interaction between stakeholders given the inherent complexity of the framework. The new organization should become a coordinating body for digital governance with a sound mandate.

Indeed, the main stumbling block for global governance to emerge in the digital sphere has to do with the model of interaction to be chosen. The epitome of the intergovernmental approach is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), while the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is illustrative of the multi-stakeholder approach.

Since neither is perfect, this naturally leads us to the conclusion that a combined approach is what is needed. This approach can possibly provide states with a much-needed platform for broader involvement in issues of digital governance, while ensuring that non-state actors and expert community retain their positions. The UNCTAD report refers to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a perfect example of such a “hybrid” international organization. At ECOSOC, interaction with NGOs takes place through the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. Expert bodies made up of representatives of individual countries as well as of independent experts also operate within the framework of ECOSOC.

Indeed, ECOSOC is a good example of how international institutions can interact with NGOs. However, it will not do to simply copy its mechanism, and it is so for several reasons. First, final recommendations within ECOSOC are adopted by representatives of member states. This harms its usefulness as a model to be replicated, since there will always be the risk that issues are politicized—this will be the case even if the new institution is designed with the combined approach in mind. Besides, should this body take on the role of the principal coordinator in the digital space, issues will become more politicized and disagreements will be more heated, thus slowing down decision-making. Second, the question remains as to how the new institution will interact with the existing organizations, namely the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Engineering Task Force. The ad hoc mechanism to engage NGOs in other areas, which works perfectly fine for ECOSOC, may not be enough when it comes to technical standards that need to be constantly updated. Third, the General Assembly elects ECOSOC members every three years. However, this would not be feasible for the new coordinating body as the digital domain has its own leaders, and leaving them overboard would be incredibly detrimental to its effectiveness. In such a case, there remains the above-mentioned risk of discussions between the U.S./EU and Russia/China becoming politicized.

Moreover, the choice of decision-making mechanism presents certain difficulties given the dominant position of the four, both on the international stage and in terms of data processing. Operating on the basis of consensus may hinder negotiations or become an instrument to block unwanted decisions, while a simple majority will likely result in these nations establishing ad hoc coalitions to try and swing votes in their favour. Therefore, it seems prudent to design a complex voting mechanism based on qualified majority, possibly drawing on the system used in the Council of the European Union. Still, this mechanism will not rule out struggles unfolding behind the scenes.

Finally, the fact that the two sides have fundamental disagreements as to the concept of sovereignty in the digital space should be accounted for, as this could put an end to the new coordinating institution before it has even been established. The only way to move forward with a truly effective platform for cooperation in the digital space is to temporarily improve, if not to normalize, the relations between the leading states in this area.

No global governance in the digital domain is better than a poorly regulated system spinning its wheels. Our modern world is too dependent on technological advances that ensure that all regions and facets of life are complementary. Any failure of the mechanism can be extremely costly. However, increasing fragmentation of the digital space may be even more costly—for developing and developed countries alike. One possible way forward amid the international environment mired in uncertainty is to search for common ground on the most basic of issues. While the differences in national regulations persist, there are a number of issues that are common to all: these include cyberterrorism, cybercrime, illegal access to data or threats to critical infrastructure.

Multilateral agreements that do not address the fundamental differences in the stances taken by states may lay the foundation for global governance to emerge in the future. It is in this context that the joint U.S.–Russia draft resolution on the responsible behaviour of states in cyberspace, if legally unbinding, bears utter significance for cooperation between nations who espouse two different models as well as for overcoming the negative background of broader political disagreements.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Reports2 hours ago

Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation

Following a strong economic rebound in 2021, with 4.3 percent growth, Russia’s growth is expected to slow in 2022 and...

Green Planet4 hours ago

COP-26 Results: High Hopes for Low Temperatures

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in...

Economy6 hours ago

An Uneven Recovery: the Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean

Employment rates in some Latin American and Caribbean countries have experienced a relative recovery, although in most, rates fall short...

Reports8 hours ago

World trade reaches all-time high, but 2022 outlook ‘uncertain’

Global trade is expected to be worth about $28 trillion this year – an increase of 23 per cent compared...

Tourism12 hours ago

Coronavirus pandemic could cost global tourism $2 trillion this year

The coronavirus pandemic will likely cost the global tourism sector $2 trillion in lost revenue in 2021, the UN’s tourism...

Development16 hours ago

Despite COVID-19 connectivity boost, world’s poorest left far behind 

Some 2.9 billion people still have never used the internet, and 96 per cent live in developing countries, a new UN report has found. According to...

Middle East18 hours ago

Saudi religious moderation is as much pr as it is theology

Mohammed Ali al-Husseini, one of Saudi Arabia’s newest naturalized citizens, ticks all the boxes needed to earn brownie points in...

Trending