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The normative context in defining ‘refugees’

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Photo Credit: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

Contextual challenges in recognizing refugees

The Refugee Convention articulates that for any person to be qualified to be a refugee that person must have been outside from the country of his nationality due to the fact of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, member of a particular social group or for having a particular political opinion. However, the Convention also in its stand approves that any person who has already been considered as a refugee under any treaty arrangements prior to this Convention would also be considered as refugees. The definition provided in the Convention is comprehensive, in a way that considers the cultural changes, and the interpretation includes the fear of persecution not only by the state actors but also by non-state actors.

However, there are also a number of restrictions, such as if a person voluntarily re-availed him or herself of the protection of his/her country of nationality, or has voluntarily reacquired the nationality of their state, the definition of refugees would not be applicable.  Further, if the state ceased to exist under the ‘cessation’ clauses, although according to the UNHCR, such clause required to be invoked sparingly, there is a possibility where the person may not fit within the definition provided by the Convention.  Nonetheless, the provision in the Convention so far has been interpreted broadly, in a way that the refugee status will not be considered to be ceased as long as the situation in the state of origin remains a danger.

Irrespective of these restrictions, the Convention remains as the central pillar, customarily interpreted in reflecting its objective and purpose of it – protecting individuals in need. Although in cases the general instability was found as a factor which is inconsistent to the prevent cessation of status, particularly due to the effect of persecution, it has also been considered as a viable internal alternative, which demonstrates that the customary interpretation of the Convention is limited. In other cases, the general instability was found as a ground for subsidiary protection that said, although the Convention fails to provide the required protection, still the state is obliged to grant such protection. Further, the Convention contemplates that irrespective of the condition of persecution remains a qualification, an individual could still qualify as a refugee given the fact there are compelling reasons arising from the previous persecution, commonly referred as ‘exemption from cessation.’ This exception applies only to the ‘statutory’ refugees, i.e. individuals who are eligible as refugees under the Article 1A (1) of the Convention: who were prior to the Convention were recognized as refugees. Further, the state practice is also contributing in extending the ‘exemption from cessation’ in protecting Convention refugees, irrespective of the fact, that the UNHCR noted clearly that such interpretation is not required by the Convention.

Nonetheless, the extent of the state practice creates now the customary norm, requiring this application, to be a purposive one. However, limitation applies under the exclusion clauses from the protection of non-refoulment to anyone qualify as a refugee under the serious reasons for consideration for have committed a crime against peace, war crime or crime against humanity or poses a compelling threat to national security or public order to the security of the country of refuge, where the individual who has already qualified as a refugee would subsequently lose the status. Note, however the exclusion clauses themselves have exceptions, such as child soldiers, decided in the case of AG v Zaoui by the Supreme Court of New Zealand, reflected on refoulment that goes hand and hand with the jus cogens status on preventing torture, noted that “[t]he prohibition on refoulment to torture has the  status of a peremptory norm or jus cogens with the consequence that article 33.2 [of the Refugee Convention] would now be void to the extent that it allows for [refoulment in such circumstances].” This implication of flexible application of the Convention was not only followed throughout the judicial decisions but also by legislative actions such as by the Council of Europe on the Recommendation 773, which recommended the European Union members to apply the definition of refugee liberally as amended by the Protocol of the Convention.

Evolution of a definition under the customary international law

As discussed above although the Convention has not amended explicitly in revising the definition of refugees, it has been customarily broadly interpreted as to justify the object and purpose. Although there has been an argument that the definition of refugees does not appear under the customary international law, but under treaty law, authors alike Hailbronner believes that the international obligation to grant protection to the victim is a ‘wishful legal thinking’, thus reflection through the state practice is a viable option. The American Society of International Law also produced that the human rights instruments are required to be read as a whole, thus protection prescribed in the Convention could be applicable to persons who enjoy any sort of non-refoulment. Thus, non-refoulment is a general principle, which Bazo also agrees that any individual who has the right to be protected under the international law must be covered by the definition of refugees. However, these arguments would be only valid if there are an extensive state practice and opinio juris to support the argument.

Regarding the state practice in expanding the definition of refugees, the reason for the primary expansion is because of civil wars, ethnic and communal conflicts and natural disasters, and of the acceptance that the international law can expand itself through custom. The Statue of the International Court of Justice prescribes that ‘evidence of a general practice accepted as law is law’ based on two elements: state practice which is described as a widespread and consistent practice of the states and opinio juris, the subjective belief of the state that engages in that practice, believing it as a requirement, not as an option. In this context, the statistics reveal that according to the UNHCR around 9 million individuals who have been identified as refugees, deserve protection, which from the state practice guidance provided in the case of North Sea Continental Shelf and of the history of the states to recognize and receive refugees to their respected nations represent the widespread practice, further be recognized not only through the subjective believe that it is the responsibility to protect refugees under the outgrown opinion juris, but also an international obligation under the treaty provisions such as Conventions Against Torture (CAT), and of the peremptory norm, jus cogens.

Defining Refugee through International Agreements

Although number of international instruments address the refugees in various stands, the Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on Refugees expands the definition of refugees includes, the people who displace due to the ‘external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order.’ Although there have been arguments that the intention of the drafters of the Convention was reflecting the post-colonial context, the fact that the Convention was signed by a number of largest recipients of refugees including Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia, Egypt and Tanzania makes the validity of the claim of the Convention in expanding the definition of refugees. In one step further, the states such as South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda adopted the Convention into their municipal laws impacts on the state practice, form a customary international law in expanding the scope of the definition of refugees. As such, the Bangkok Principles on the Asian -African Legal Consultive Organization also claims similar expansion in the definition of refugees, specially accepts the concept of refugees sur place, also claims the definition to cover any individual who was expelled from a state where his or her life or liberty is threatened for the reasons of race, colour, nationality, ethnic origins, etc.

The Cartagena Declaration focused on the forced migrants in Central and South America noted that Article 1(2) of the OAU Convention as the starting point of defining refugees, the declaration was although not legally binding in nature, endorsed by the Organization of American States, the UNHCR Executive Committee, further cited in the Brasilia Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in the Americans. It was signed and ratified by most of the American states, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The Mercosur Rio de Janeiro Declaration further provided expanded definition includes not only to the individual whose life is threatened for the reasons of race, colour and nationality etc., as provided in the previously discussed declarations, but also the victims of a generalized violation of human rights. The declaration itself expresses the state practice by accepting the geographically diverse practice to support the existence of the customary international law.

The Refugee Convention, its Protocol of 1967, and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees 2001 attribute the expanded version of the definition of refugees, also affirms the important of the human rights and regional refugee protection instruments which by doing it expresses the obligation of the states to carry the burden for the stronger existence of opinio juris.

There has been also the subsidiary protection provided in the international agreements based on the context of persecution, often those individuals protected are referred as de facto refugees: the refugees who need are seen as legitimate, however, they would not qualify under the Convention. However, looking at the intention of the drafters of the Convention, it is expressed that the provisions of the Convention can be interpreted in a way to cover these expanded group of persons. However, there has been debate about this status, which was particularly addressed by the European Union in the context when considering the minimum standard of the directive failed to cover subsidiary protection. Although the directive models the Article 1(F) of the Convention, there has been no legal obligation to follow the terms, nor required to be supplemented by humanitarian assistance. Nonetheless, there are a number of international treaties calls for the subsidiary protection, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the CAT in particular, the Article 3 which prohibits refoulment of a person, ‘where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subject to torture.’

The European Convention on Human Rights and the American and African Charters make similar provisions on torture, establishes that the protection must be given to an individual when he is in ‘real risk.’ The EU Minimum Standards Directive 2004 particularly requires the member states to receive asylum application on the basis of the subsidiary protection who cannot go back to the country of origin because of serious harm, which includes death penalty or execution, torture and inhuman treatment or any other form of serious and individual threat to the civilian’s life by indiscriminate violence caused by the international or non- international armed conflict.

The state practice and the opinio juris have also been recognized in the context of refugees by the practice and mandate of the UNHCR that contributes to the formation of customary international law. It is because the organization embodies the state practice through being represented by the state delegates, or where the state cites the mandate of the organization being supervisory expresses opinio juris that the legal standards applied by the organization are accurate and the delegation by the states to the UNHCR could determine the status of refugees. In this context, the practice of the UNHCR cannot be dismissed, a representative opinio juris that is effective.

The Council of Europe through its Recommendation 18 of 2001 and by case laws such as in the case of Elgafaji v. Staatssecretaris van Justitie, Case C-465/07, 2009 E.C.R., argues for the qualification for the subsidiary protection which does not require to be a specifically targeted for harsh treatment, but as far is it fulfill ‘serious and individual treat’ due to the indiscriminate violence. It is to note that the EU did not broaden the definition of refugees, but provides legal standings for subsidiary protection, an expression of the opinio juris for the subsidiary protection.

Normative restrictions on the definition of refugees

Although the above discussion expresses that the definition of refugees has been expanded in a way to cover individuals, not just those facing the risk of persecution, there are also the existence of the negative impact of the customary international law that narrows the definition, particularly when there is a treaty provision which contrasts to the intention of the customary international law in this matter in particular.

One method the states adopted in narrowing the scope of the application of refugee law is by interpreting the territorial application of the Convention, which affects the determination of when an individual is outside his country of nationality. For an example, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Convention is not applicable outside the territory of the United States, whereas Russia interpreted in the same manner, along with interpreting the definition of territory.

The second method is by providing alternative relocation. Courts found when there is a possibility for the individual to relocate within the state of nationality, the application for refugee status can be rejected. However, in this context states found it from two approaches. First is to see whether there is genuine access to the areas of domestic protection, where the state can ensure the protection is meaningful, and the protection is not unpredictable. The second approach is comparing the situation of the area where the individual currently situated and the characteristic of the proposed area of protection, which is the approach the UK finds through the case laws since the first approach does not go along with the EU Council Directive 2004/83/EC.

The third method of the states enforce is applying the third country or safe country of origin tests to refuse the claims for asylum, in the basis that if the individual is coming from a country that has been deemed safe, then there is no requirement to provide asylum.

The fourth method is enforcing prohibitions on applying for recognition of refugee status through regulations under certain circumstances. Although it in first hand appears as it does not narrow the definition of refugees, but the fact the burden of proof is placed on the applicant that he has no disqualifying act or condition such as in the cases of terrorist suspects, such as in the case of Bundesrepublik Deutschland v. B, Case C- 57/09, 1990 E.C.R. and Bundesrepublik Deutschland v. D., Case C-101/09, 2010, severely affects the scope of being defined as a legitimate refugee. Further, broadly interpreting the acceptable criteria that the Convention spells out for refusing the refugee status, have certainly undermined the scope of the Convention, that indirectly impact in the definition and scope of refugees.

The fifth method is providing diplomatic assurances while refusing to accept the refugees, which is still remaining controversial. It was argued against by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as an ineffective approach has been used by states. The MOU signed by the UK with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon to provide blanket assurance is a clear example of it, which the Council of European Commissioner for Human Rights argued that “[t]he weakness inherent in the practice of diplomatic assurances lies in the fact that where there is a need for such assurances, there is clearly an acknowledged risk of torture or ill-treatment.”

In these contexts, this essay concludes that although normatively the definition of refugees has extended, the governments have been using different mechanisms in restricting the scope of it by not willfully restrict the definition, or contrast the customary international law, but by going around the definition, that has substantially weakened the entire legal scope of the extension of the definition so far has been built up by the customary international law.

Janakan Muthukumar is a young academic, currently undertakes a research project at the University of Toronto on G7 commitments on International Security. He holds an LLM in International Law from the University of London, UK and a Master in Human Rights and Democratisation at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on armed conflicts, counterterrorism and counterproliferation.

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The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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

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

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

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

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

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

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

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

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

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

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

4. Polarisation for winning elections

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

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

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Climate Change Deniers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Universal self-Regulation code

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

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

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

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

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

[4] Id. at 13

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

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

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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