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International Law

US Migrant Crisis and the Global Human Rights Protection Standards

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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Migrants and asylum seekers from Central America have been marching towards the US for protection and shelter. But US government has deployed around 6000 soldiers to prevent them from entering into the US. These migrant and asylum seekers convoys have been dubbed as “a foreign invasion” by the incumbent US President that needs to be confronted by the US army. President Trump hard-headedly argued that “immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic” that prompted the US army officials of firing tear gas shells at migrants’ convoys. It is nothing but the portrayal of an invasion by the Central American migrants and asylum seekers into the US. Such a US posturing on international migration is a manifestation of the US tradition of hypocrisy and its deep-seated aversion towards the migrants that violates global human Rights protection standards (GHRPS). Thus, the across-the-board new migration strategy of the US is based on the idea of ultra-restrictionism that deprives the immigrants from public benefits, and recently President Trump has entirely abolished the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme along with the abrogation of the temporary status protection programmes. These measures have adversely impacted the GHRPS required for the 2 million regular migrants in the US which spawned the emergence of a well-founded fear of persecution, far-right nationalism, and socio-cultural schism.

New Migration Strategy

The US restrictive measures have attracted international media attention and the US is hell-bent to send a message to the international community that it would not be privy to the non-binding standard for a safe, orderly and regular migration known as the UN Global Compact on Migration (GCM) arrangement scheduled to be agreed in December 2018 and US is alone capable to take its decisions on immigration issues under America First Policy (AFP).Therefore, the GHRPS for migrants and asylum seekers are apparently immaterial in the US immigration policy objectives. Trump administration under AFP discourse envisions restrictionism, deterrence, and pre-emption against GHRPS while denying public benefits to immigrants at par US citizens. Unfortunately, strong and inclusive migration control strategy has been devised and is being implemented to restrict the rights of those migrants and immigrants who are already there in the US. For example; Trump administration has been attempting to temper the 2020 US census that is bound to influence the political scene for the advantage of Republicans in the years ahead.

However, ex-President Barack Obama also resorted to the deployment of US armed forces on the US-Mexico international border to curb migration that resulted in some cases of family-separations but at a low rate if it is measured against the present Trump administration. The point of distinction between the Obama and Trump administrations is that the former recognized the contribution of migrants to the US’s growth; however, this understanding has steadily acquired a negative narrative under the later administration. President Trump has been demanding $5 billion to construct a wall along the US-Mexico international border otherwise intimidating shutting down the US government. However, Trump administration apparently does not leave any stone unturned in case of violently pushing back migrants and asylum seekers. Trump administration has inaugurated its immigration policy with a Travel Ban from seven Muslim countries and now it has been stretched to Latin American countries against all norms of GHRPS and international law.

Global Human Rights Protection Standards

The incumbent US administration is more interested in denying migrants and asylum seekers the access to benefits under the US national laws and global human rights protection standards. The latest Trump’s proclamation is to contain the new arrivals from Mexico and its Southern nation-states which restrict the right to seek asylum in the US beyond the port of entry. Further, impugned presidential proclamation defers well-established US asylum legislation that contravenes due process of law, the rule of law and international treaty law recognized and sanctified under the Constitution of United States of America. However, this presidential proclamation or asylum ban has, for the time being, been stopped by the San Francisco Federal Court under a restraining order.

In spite of this, the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 states that any “alien or foreigner who is physically or personally present in the US or who comes in the US (whether or not at an officially designated port of entry, irrespective of such alien or foreigner’s status, may apply for asylum.” However, under Section 212 (f) the US President is empowered to enforce immigration restrictions by issuing a proclamation. Further, the US President may if feels that “the entry of any alien or foreigner or any class of foreigners or aliens into the US would be detrimental to the American interests suspend the entry of all foreigners or aliens or any class of aliens or foreigners as non immigrants or immigrants, or impose on the entry of foreigners or aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” Precisely, President Trump invoked this provision of law to clamp these insensitive and punitive restrictions. This presidential decree has aggravated the Trump’s AFP to new levels of castigation. Groups and individuals seeking asylum and entering the US while avoiding official ports of entry were slapped with criminal cases that got them separated from their families. Such irregular entries were criminalized by the US border authorities in violation of “the right not to be penalized for irregularly entering into the territory of High Contracting State” under Article 31 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (UNCSR) with its 1967 Additional Protocol that has been acceded to by the US.

Having hit with such transgressions, the criminal charges leveled against asylum seekers did not affect their asylum claims, and they were duly entitled to have their asylum claims heard. However, this scenario is no more there as new reports indicate that a single-digit number of asylum applications are disposed of daily at the designated entry ports. Therefore, such a situation has led to inordinate delays in processing the applications of asylum seekers at the border that is a violation of Section 1 of Amendment XIV of the Constitution of United States of America that codifies the core values of the people of the USA. But many persons have been denied access and abducted, raped and thrashed to the hilt. However, Article 33 (1) of the UNCSR contains the principle of non-refoulement stemming from the customary international law that works as “a safety valve” which obligates the nation-states to protect a refugee, migrants, stateless and asylum seekers who is fleeing from persecution, risk or danger to life in his or her country of origin or homeland. Few scholars contest the applicability of the principle of non-refoulement extra-territorially; however, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has already recognized the extra-territorial application of the non-refoulement principle, and the denial of entry into the US is a violation of the UNCSR.

Moreover, there is another principle of international law where under collective or mass expulsion of the refugees, migrants or asylum seekers is prohibited and obligates the nation-states to examine objectively and cumulatively every expulsion action of each individual and group of persons. The “hot return” policy of the US clearly violates this obligation under GHRPS. Thus, this practice primarily rescinds the right of the huge majority of migrants and asylum seekers to seek for asylum. Therefore, it also circumvents the objects and purposes of the UNCSR.

The Hot Return Policy

The hot return policy stems from the US Department of Justice regulation of 1953 that entails the “100 Air Mile Zone” rule; however, that negates the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution under which the right and protection against arbitrary and random searches have been provided within this zone. But Border Patrol officials have been empowered to operate the immigration checkpoints in this vast zone with extra-constitutional powers. Under the “zero tolerance policy” Department of Homeland Security wields enormous powers and conducts speedy ejections of undocumented migrants within this area. The fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to counsel or the right to a hearing before a judicial immigration authority and the right against expulsions are not available in the situation of “hot returns.” The new regulation has precisely been founded upon this mechanism and whosoever arrives at the designated checkpoints will be pushed back devoid of any due process of law. Anti-migration-driven steps like the family separation, ankle-monitors for asylum seekers and detention of asylum seekers during the process of determination of their asylum claims. Therefore, it has become a double-edged weapon as when asylum seekers try to apply at authoritative ports of entry they are prevented from doing so and when some migrants and asylum seekers do not follow the law and try to manage surreptitiously asylum benefits they are also prevented from claiming asylum within the US. In fact, the impugned policy violates the UNCSR, customary international law and the provisions of general international law. Therefore, civil society institutions like the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union filed cases in the US courts against such illegal actions of the Trump administration.

The Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers

There is a plan to have secret measures to restrict the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the US against all protection standards of the so-called civilized world. The rights of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers are in active violation in the US who espouses the cause of human rights, the rule of law, democracy and diversity worldwide. For example; in the Matter of A-R-C-G- et al. decided on August 26, 2014 at the US Department of Justice by the Executive Office for Immigration Review where the Board of Immigration observed that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave or run away from their relationship” which can constitute a cognizable “membership of particular social group” that establishes the basis of the right to seek asylum or withholding of removal under Sections 208(a) and 241(b)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 and which is also a prerequisite for meeting the criterion of refugee definition under Article 1 of the UNCSR. However, law officers under the Trump administration adamant to subvert the well-established legal standards that provide respite and reprieve in the cases of domestic violence.

There is a perennial cycle of legal measures that are bound to belittle existing human rights protection standards like latest Trump administration’s endeavour to reverse the Flores v. Reno popularly known as Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) in September 2018. The reversal of FSA will be the most inhuman act of the present US administration as separating and snatching children from their parents cannot be justified under any circumstance whatsoever.  FSA determines the limits on the duration and conditions under which children could be incarcerated in immigration detention, and it also regulatesthe detention, treatment, and release of detained minors by the immigration authorities. However, Trump Administration seeks to terminate the FSA’s legal defences for children, including the provision that children must be shifted to a non-secure, licensed facility within three to five days of detention, which has been construed to allow for an extension of up to 20 days in times of “emergency” or “influx.” The proposed regulations include some policies which, if implemented, would allow the government to incarcerate more families for even longer periods. Primarily, FSA’s goal was to release families and minor children from immigration custody quickly. Therefore, if FSA is reversed now, it would violate GHRPS and due process of law.

Way Forward

The US is the first country in the world that has been recognized as a country of migrants, enriched by the migrants and celebrates multiculturalism as an inalienable part of its existence since time immemorial. However, US policies based on the doctrine of American interests worldwide has done a massive disservice to the lives of the people worldwide.  The US supports and protects many national governments who serve its interests, US exploits and expropriates the natural resources of many countries and its prescriptive approach in formulating economic policies, forced regime change, subjugation of international organizations and selective discharge of international obligations have also contributed in displacing people from their roots. Therefore, it has to share the responsibility of hosting migrants and asylum seekers, particularly from its vicinity. In fact, many anti-migrants measures violate US municipal law, the US’s international treaty obligations as well as general international law. The US has to abdicate its restrictionism based on hate, threats, and xenophobia in consonance with its historical traditions of liberal democracy, diversity, and multiculturalism.

In this context, all anti-migrants restrictions and sanctions must be withdrawn while respecting GHRPS and international law obligations.As pictures circulate worldwide of US firing of tear gas enveloping migrants, asylum seekers and their children on US-Mexican border and terrified faces of children who are being snatched from their parents by the US Border Patrol agents, a UN Global Compact on Orderly and Safe Migration is likely to win near-universal approval at the inter-governmental conference scheduled to be held in Marrakesh, Moroccoon December 10-11, 2018 expected to be the final step before the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is formally adopted by the UN General Assembly. It has been a long-drawn journey to achieve such an ambitious plan for regulating and governing international migration by the international community. However, it would not be a legally binding treaty even then, unfortunately, US has already shunned this global initiative against the mandate of its own constitution.

The Constitution of the United States of America is a sacred covenant achieved by an immeasurable amount of human investment that has established an equal society in America. But, unfortunately, these restrictions on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers have weakened the US constitutional guarantees and liberties under the current administration. The emergence of the far-right political discourse that is being well-sponsored and patronized under the Trump administration must be countered by strengthening the liberal democratic political discourse, and same must also be reflected in the institutional governance frameworks of the United States of America.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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International Law

Validity of Reservations of Bangladesh against Article 2 of CEDAW

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One of the greatest victories for the post-modern feminist movement in the arena of International Law was the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, hereinafter, the Convention). Often termed as the harbinger of an alternative understanding of the feminist cause going beyond the Human Rights regime, the Convention heralded the greatest possible change in the Status of women, recognized internationally. Often regarded as the International Bill of Rights for Women, CEDAW is a comprehensive treaty on the rights of women and establishes legally binding obligations on the State Parties to follow the legal standards set by it to end discrimination against women by achieving equality between men and women. (Tackling Violence against Women, London School of Economic Blog)

Despite the theoretical attempts at establishing an equal society, for most part of the World, the coverage of the Convention is minimal. This is mostly because of the ‘reservations’ made by member States in the name of personal laws often originating in their religious set up. The personal laws in their very inception are rooted in the ideas of patriarchy, dominance of men, and lesser roles for women. Many instances from the sources of these personal laws would prove that men are in charge of women and hence can direct their personal spheres. These discriminatory personal laws are protected even in the most advanced constitutional setups either through a document or a bill of rights within the purview of Right to Religion. As a consequence, many countries in order to show their neutrality towards the concept of Religion and to establish the beautiful ideals of secularism tend to overlook the discrimination these religious laws preach.

In the current Article, the researcher provides an analysis as to what kind of reservations are permitted under the CEDAW, and how Bangladesh completely misunderstood its qualified right of Reservations, as an absolute right and established an anomaly, which doesn’t merely contradict its international commitments but also the fundamental principles of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

Concept of Reservations to Treaties

The existing ambiguities in the treaty reservations law have often led to irregularities and illegalities in law. In 1969 the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was adopted to codify practice and provide legal guidance on the meaning of reservations and a uniform procedure for entering them. The Vienna Convention provides that reservations may not be made that are “incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.” (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (23 May 1969), Entered into force 27 January 1980. United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1155, p. 331.) This provision raises as many questions as it answers, as the Vienna Convention does not define “object and purpose,” nor does it indicate what body has the power to determine validity. The Vienna Convention also provides for state parties to object to a reservation within twelve months of its entry. However, objections do not dispose of the question of validity, although some states have objected to reservations to CEDAW on the ground of invalidity. In 1994,M. Alain Pellet, the Special Rapporteur on Reservation to treaties, addressed various aspects of the reservation issues. The most significant for purposes of dealing with CEDAW and other human rights treaties is his discussion of reservations to “normative” treaties. The international human rights treaties differ from most other treaties in that their implementation is monitored by bodies that are established by the terms of the respective treaties. (Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 24 on Reservations, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/dd.6 (November, 1994), republished as HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6.) Despite establishments of treaty bodies, within the framework of treaties, who hold authority to judge any reservations on its merits, all these bodies have had issues with reservations.

The Convention permits ratification subject to reservations. Some state parties that enter reservations to the Convention do not enter reservations to analogous provisions in other human rights treaties. A number of states enter reservations to particular articles on the ground that national law, tradition, religion or culture are not congruent with Convention principles, and purport to justify the reservation on that basis. (Reservations to CEDAW, Available at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reservations.htm, accessed on 6/10/2019).Article 28 (2) of the Convention adopts the impermissibility principle contained in art. 19 (c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The impermissibility principle states that any reservation which is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty shall be invalid. The CEDAW Committee considers art. 2 as the core provision of the Convention. The Committee holds the view that art. 2 central to the objects and purpose of the Convention and as a consequence its importance cannot be neglected. States parties which ratify the Convention do so because there exists an agreement between all the states that any form of discrimination against women in all its forms should be condemned and that strategies set out in art. 2, should be implemented by States parties to eliminate it. How far the traditional, religious or cultural practice, incompatible domestic laws or other policies can justify violations of the Convention, needs some thorough scrutiny.

Fundamental Rights under the Constitution of Bangladesh

Article 7 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 refers to Supremacy of Constitution and all powers to be exercised in consonance with the same, as it manifests the will of the people of the Republic. The Constitution also guarantees various fundamental rights to its citizens and explicitly states than any law inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights shall be void. The Constitution also promotes equality (art. 27, Constitution of Bangladesh) and prohibits any form of discrimination against women in all spheres of state and in the public life (art. 28(2) Constitution of Bangladesh). Despite these provisions proclaiming equality and non-discrimination against women in the law of the land, Bangladesh holds reservations against art. 2 of the Convention, which, as already discussed above is crucial for the objects and purposes of the Convention. The ground, as repeatedly claimed by Bangladesh, for such reservation is that these provisions contradict the Sharia Law based on Holy Quran and Sunnah. As a response to this, neither the Committee nor any State party has belaboured the issue. Bangladesh withdrew the reservations to Articles 13(a) and 16 (1) (f) of the Convention in 1997 but has not withdrawn the Article 2 and Article 16 (1) (c). The Committee has continued to press on the question of withdrawing the remaining reservations, however mostly unsuccessfully.

Periodic Committee Reports at a glance

Soon after the ratification of the treaty, in 1996 the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affair constituted an inter-ministerial committee to review the reservations to the Convention. The report of the Committee reaffirmed the supremacy of the law, and stated that Bangladesh doesn’t have Sharia Law as such rather certain provisions have been codified into legislation. Also, the report suggested that the provisions of Sharia are not immutable and hence can be reinterpreted as per need of time. (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Third and Fourth Report of State Parties: Bangladesh, CEDAW/C/BGD/3-4 p 26 (April 1, 1997)).

Again in 2004, during the 31st session of the CEDAW, in its fifth report the Bangladeshi representative asserted their intention to withdraw all the reservations. The Committee was gratified to hear that Bangladesh intended to withdraw its reservations to the Convention in the near future. In doing so, it would ensure the effective implementation of the Convention and send a significant message to other Muslim nations. (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Fifth Report (Continued), Summary Record of 654 Meeting, CEDAW/C/BGD/5, para 61, (July 9, 2004))

Regarding the optional protocol, Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, observed, although Bangladesh had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, its reservations to articles 2 and 16.1 (c) effectively meant that the Optional Protocol was not applicable regarding certain rights provided for in the Convention. She remarked that the Bangladeshi delegation had stated that the Government was gradually taking steps to implement the equal rights guaranteed to men and women under the Constitution, and she would appreciate knowing why that was the case, since those rights should be granted, not on a gradual basis, but immediately. (Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, 5th Periodic Report: Bangladesh, Summary Records CEDAW/5/SR.653 (12th August 2004)) The fifth periodic report also focused on the ongoing role of NGOs and other Civil Societies stating their lobbying efforts and advocacy attempts to remove reservations from the Article 2 and 16.1 (c).

Most recently, the 8th Periodic Report submitted in 2016, recalled the importance of Law Commission (hereinafter, LC) reports, which is a statutory body empowered to recommend enactment, amendment or repealing of laws relating to fundamental rights and values of society. Since 2009, the LC has suggested reform of laws for the promotion of human rights, including prevention of sexual harassment in educational institutions and workplaces, prevention of violence against women, protection of victims and witnesses to grave offences, reform of Hindu family laws and the withdrawal of reservation on the two Articles (2 and 16.1(c) of CEDAW. (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 8th Periodic Report: Bangladesh, May 2015) In the report, the Bangladeshi representative submitted that the Government is aware about the potential movements by the Islamic fundamentalist groups against the withdrawal of the reservations. Therefore, cautious steps are being taken so as not to jeopardize application of the principles of CEDAW. Partnership and cooperation with civil society is essential to create a positive environment for the withdrawal of reservation.

The abovementioned constitutional provisions and periodic reports show that despite being an equal society, at least constitutionally, the abovementioned reservations appear highly mis-founded as they can essentially have only two understandings- first, Sharia is inherently discriminatory against women; Second, Bangladesh has wrongly appreciated and understood Sharia, which has misguided such reservations. While the first one could not be agreed for most of its part, as 29 out of 57 members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with Sharia law in force, have ratified the treaty without any reservations. When it comes to Second observation, then it can be affirmatively said that the Bangladeshi reservation is rooted in the wrong conception of its own religious conceptions and practices. Various reports suggest that the Sharia is not immutable and such changes can be made as per the needs of time. This can be regarded as one of the most important times where call for such amendments in the Bangladeshi understanding and interpretation of Sharia Law as the crime against women in the South Asian region is on all-time high. (See Media Report)

Concluding Remarks

In light of the above-mentioned facts it becomes imperative to understand the prospects of such reservations both in law and in practice along with the methods of tackling the existing obstacles in the implementation of women centric legislations. While Bangladesh has accepted the irregularity of its reservations to the CEDAW in every periodic report submitted to the CEDAW, yet any action for the withdrawal of the same is still an implausible idea because of the pressure on the Government exerted by fundamentalist groups active in Bangladesh. As the reservation contradicts various provisions of the Constitution of Bangladesh like Articles 26, 27, 28, 29, etc, they are inherently invalid. But despite the vehement oppositions from various NGOs and civil societies to the reservations, no such remark has yet been made by the judiciary of Bangladesh. Along with reiteration of supremacy of constitution over sharia law, it is necessary for the courts to remove the divide between public and private spaces. While private spaces are completely untouched by the State, it is imperative that the manifestations of such personal practices which become social factors should be regulated. Alternatively, reading the reservation invalid within the purview of Sharia Law can be another plausible task that the Government can undertake. Taking into consideration the examples of other Islamic nations, which have no reservations against the CEDAW, can also be beneficial to the withdrawing of reservation procedure. These exemplified and exalted examples of law in other Islamic nations which don’t have reservations can help Bangladesh cope up with the resistance to the withdrawal by the fundamentalist forces.

Regarding reservations of Bangladesh, it can be concluded that they are highly misplaced because of inherent problem in their conception. States are required to be proactive in adopting laws and policies to eliminate discrimination against women and in attempting to modify or abolish discriminatory “customs and practices.” As the article lays out the fundamental requirement to comply with all articles of the Convention in the State party’s constitution, statutes, and policies, it is imperative for Bangladesh to withdraw the same.

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International Law

Schweitzer’s ‘Reverence for Life’ In the Age of Trump and Modi

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Forever known by his phrase ‘reverence for life’, Albert Schweitzer was a theologian, moral philosopher, physician and missionary.  He was born in Alsace when it was German, and became a French citizen when it reverted back to France after the First World War.

To him this reverence implied regard for and a duty to all human beings, not “confined to blood relations or tribe” (The Teaching of Reverence for Life, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965, p. 9).  It is an inspiring thought for it leads naturally to peace and the end of wars.  He did not claim originality for the idea, noting that Lao-Tse and Confucius among others had already preceded him in espousing it (pp. 9-10).  He merely promoted it.

In this he was also of like mind with the 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who reminded us of conscience and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.  We are strings, he said, “that vibrate in sympathy with others”, endowed with a natural good that propels us to help our neighbors or the distressed (p. 20).  I am reminded of my father who always said, “You don’t treat a disease; you treat a patient.”

And then one wonders if these instincts have been consciously suppressed in some human beings.  One can think of two current leaders in particular:  Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.  Trump’s assertion, “he died like a dog” grates even if one violently disagrees with al-Baghdadi’s methods, wrenched as he was from the normal course of his life by a US invasion predicated on false charges.

Then there is Modi and his drumbeat of upper caste Hindu supremacy.  As US Representative Ro Khanna noted forcefully in a tweet, “It is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians.”

It was only a few days ago in India that a 27-year old Dalit man was beaten mercilessly and tossed in the river to die.  He had been fishing.  His crime:  a refusal to give his catch to a nearby Brahmin who wanted an equal share.  If it needs reminding, a Brahmin belongs to the highest caste, a Dalit or Untouchable to the lowest — someone who is frequently not allowed to use the village well.  The Dalit man killed was the sole support of his family.

For the people of Kashmir there is little respite.  A beautiful valley that could attract tourist dollars, instead is invaded by Indian troops.  When the Kashmiris protest their humiliation through demonstrations, even children are blinded by pellet guns.  Photos show decaying towns where empty streets are patrolled by sullen soldiers.

Then there are Palestinians, frequent casualties of the Israeli military, living the daily humiliations and frustrations of life between checkpoints — a life in prison in the case of Gaza where the soccer team is denied travel permits to play in a local tournament against a West Bank team.  I 

Gaza’s native son Dr. Ramzy Baroud shines a frequent light on the dark horror of three-quarters of a century of occupation.  Frequent articles and four books including the latest “These Chains Will be Broken” published this year– keep the world informed.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a peace activist.  His moving memoir I Shall not Hate followed a tragedy.  During the 2008 – 2009 Gaza invasion, a tank stationed itself outside his home (well known to the Israelis) and fired a shell killing three of his daughters aged 13, 15 and 21, and seriously injuring another who was 17.   In that war one of his nieces also died and another niece was grievously injured.

Who was it who said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The good doctor’s book is subtitled, “A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Dignity.”  It is a common quest across the world.

In Chile, protesters show no let-up and the country is unable to host the COP 25 climate change meeting.  Spain has offered to step in, despite its own Catalan independence movement problems. 

The Chile protests have so far resulted in 20 deaths and thousands injured.  Starting with a student protest on October 18 over a rise in Metro fares, they have ballooned to a million at one demonstration, the largest in the country’s history.  Vandalism, looting, bus burning are often a consequence and clashes with security forces follow.  President Sebastian Pinera has been obliged to reverse the fare increase, and is also promising higher taxes on the wealthy as well as an increase in the minimum wage. 

Examples of human strife do not end here.  Yet in the present era there is a common goal for humanity when it faces the existential threat of climate change.  Surely then we can form a common bond, extend Schweitzer’s reverence to include all life, and strive to save our one and only home.  As Schweitzer observes (p. 31), “Reverence for life, arising when intelligence operates upon the will to live, contains within itself affirmation of the universe and of life.”

Author’s note: This article appeared first on Counterpunch.org 

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International Law

Salvaging international law: The best of bad options

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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These are uncertain times with trade wars, regional conflicts and increased abuse of human and minority rights pockmarking the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. What may be potentially the most dangerous casualty of the transition is the abandonment of even a pretence to the adherence to international law.

Violations of international law and abuse of human and minority rights dominate news cycles in a world in which leaders, that think in exclusive civilizational rather than inclusive national terms, rule supreme.

Examples are too many to comprehensively recount.

They include semi-permanent paralysis of the United Nations Security Council as a result of big power rivalry; last month’s Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in a bid to change the region’s demography; ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar; disenfranchisement of millions, predominantly Muslims, in India; and a Chinese effort to fundamentally alter the belief system of Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

It’s not that international law was adhered to prior to the rise of presidents like Donald J. Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orban of Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It wasn’t. Witness, as just one instance, widespread condemnation of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as a violation of international law.

The silver lining at the time was the fact that international law was at least a reference point for norms and standards by which leaders and governments were judged. It still is, at least theoretically, but it no longer is the standard to which leaders and governments necessarily pay lip service. Today, they do so only when opportunistically convenient.

Instead, violations of territorial sovereignty, as well as human and minority rights, has become the norm.

It also is the de facto justification for the creation of a new world order, in which a critical mass of world leaders often defines the borders and national security of their countries in civilizational and/or ethnic, cultural or religious terms.

The abandonment of principles enshrined in international law, with no immediate alternative standard setter in place, raises the spectre of an era in which instability, conflict, mass migration, radicalization, outbursts of popular frustration and anger, and political violence becomes the new normal.

Last month’s killing of Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu nationalist politician in Uttar Pradesh, because of a defamatory comment about the Prophet Mohammed that he allegedly made four years ago, reflects the deterioration of Muslim-Hindu relations in Mr. Modi’s increasingly Hindu nationalist India.

Perhaps more alarming is the recent declaration by Oren Hazan, a Knesset member for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, that China’s incarceration of at least a million Muslims in re-education camps, or what Beijing calls vocational education facilities, was a model for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

Equally worrisome is last month’s revocation by Mr. Putin of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions related to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. Mr. Putin justified the revocation on the grounds that an international commission, set up in order to investigate war crimes against civilians, risks abuse of the commission’s power “by the states, which are acting in bad faith.”

Russia alongside Iran and the government of President Bashar al-Assad have been accused of multiple war crimes in war-ravaged Syria. So have anti-Assad rebels, irrespective of their political or religious stripe.

Russia’s withdrawal from the Geneva protocol, Mr. Hazan’s endorsement of Chinese policy and Turkey’s intervention in Syria in an environment that legitimizes abandonment of any pretext of adherence to international law as well as ultra-nationalist and supremacist worldviews are indicators of what a world would look like in which laws, rules and regulations governing war and peace and human and minority rights are no longer the standards against which countries and governments are measured.

The fact that Mr. Al-Assad, a ruthless autocrat accused of uncountable war crimes, is increasingly being perceived as Syria’s best hope after more than eight years of brutal civil war aggravated by foreign intervention, drives the point home.

“As depressing as it is to write this sentence, the best course of action today is for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to regain control over northern Syria. Assad is a war criminal whose forces killed more than half a million of his compatriots and produced several million refugees. In a perfect world, he would be on trial at The Hague instead of ruling in Damascus. But we do not live in a perfect world, and the question we face today is how to make the best of a horrible situation,” said prominent US political scientist Stephen M. Walt.

The problem is that stabilizing Syria by restoring legitimacy to an alleged war criminal may provide temporary relief, but also sets a precedent for a world order, in which transparency and accountability fall by the wayside. It almost by definition opens the door to solutions that plant the seeds for renewed conflict and bloodshed.

International law was and is no panacea. To paraphrase Mr. Walt’s argument, it is the best of bad options.

Abandoning the standards and norms embedded in international law will only perpetuate flawed policies by various states that were destined to aggravate and escalate deep-seated grievances, discord and conflict rather than fairly and responsibly address social, cultural and political issues that would contribute to enhanced societal cohesion.

Identifying the problem is obviously easy. Solving it is not, given that the players who would need to redress the issue are the violators themselves.

Ensuring that nations and leaders respect international law in much the same way that citizens are expected to honour their country’s laws would have to entail strengthening international law itself as well as its adjudication. That would have to involve a reconceptualization of the United Nations Security Council as well as the International Court of Justice.

That may not be as delusionary as it sounds. But leaders would have to be willing to recognize that criticisms of the application of international law, like Mr. Putin’s objections to the way the Geneva protocol is implemented, have a degree of merit.

In other words, like national laws, international law will only be effective if it is universally applied. Western legal principles insist that no one is exempt from the law. The same should apply to states, governments and leaders.

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