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International Law

Turkish denial of Armenian genocide and application of international law for justice

Punsara Amarasinghe

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Anastasia Glazova*

Exactly one hundred and four years ago world witnessed the first systematic genocide when the international law had adopted no specific legal remedies to prevent such atrocities or decades before Raphael Lemkin coined the term “Genocide” in 1944. The calamity that befell Armenian people lived in Ottoman Empire have been widely discussed as one of the macabre events recorded in human history as it took more hundred thousands of Armenian lives, yet up to this day Turkish government has denied the events took place in Turkey against Armenians. The facts which paved the path to slaughter Armenians were filled with the rise and of nationalism in Ottoman Turkey and also it fair to assume Armenian people were caught between the two belligerent powers of Russia and Turkey and later took the pretext to considering some Armenians were loyal to Russia as a good strategy to carry out their massacre. The Armenian genocide was executed under the chief motive of eliminating the whole Armenian population from Ottoman territory.

The atrocities against Armenians were given legitimacy as Turkish government promulgated temporary law of deportation and temporary law of expropriation and confiscation, which granted a legitimate way to get rid of Armenian population and also to eventually to acquire their properties as well. After the defeat of Ottoman empire and central European powers in First World War the actions taken by allies in 1919 Paris peace conference against the perpetrators of Armenian genocide. The decision of conducting a trial for the perpetrators was culminated in Treaty of Severes as its article 230 states that the Ottoman Empire “hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914.” However the allied attempt to establish a proper trial on Armenian genocide was faded into oblivion as the prosecutors found no solid evidence to reprimand Ottoman officers involved in Armenian genocide and eventually most of them were walked free without being charged.

Most interesting question pertinent to Armenian genocide remaining today is the ambiguity of assessing the planned intention of Ottoman government to exterminate Armenian population systematically. According to Article 2 of Genocide Convention adopted in 1948, the element of genocide can be proven when such acts were committed against national, ethnical, racial or religious group” with “the intent to destroy [it] in whole or in part”. The common rhetorical quibble which has been often used to cover the Turkish responsibility over Armenian genocide is that the genocide convention was not existing at that time when those heinous crimes were occurred. However the prohibition of international law is in inherent part of peremptory norms ( JusCogens ) in international law  which binds all the states to eliminate such crimes and bring the perpetrators before justice. Regarding the state responsibility of Turkey as the liable party who took the initiatives of obliterating Armenian population from its territory, it is interesting to observe that Ottoman rule was ceased to exist after their defeat of First World War and the emergence of Kemal Ataturk’s secular Turkey denied accepting the responsibilities for such acts occurred in the past and pay compensation for the victim unlike how Germany felt humiliated on their Nazi past after Second World War and adopted a policy of providing compensation for the descendants. Instead of moving to embrace the guiltiness of the past, the republic of Turkey seemed to have negated the factual reality from its masses through various methods.

As an example when the whole Armenian diaspora around the world commemorated  103rd anniversary last year, Turkish president declared bringing  genocide charges against Turkey is akin to “blackmailing” his country. Moreover the creating a public discourse about their notorious imperial past of Ottoman Empire has been completely trampled by legal apparatus of Turkey as Article 301 of current penal code of Turkey has penalized criticizing Turkishness as a criminal offence. Many journalists and activists including Turkish bestselling novelist Orhan Pamuk were reprimanded in Turkey under this outrageous section of Turkish penal code, because they had audacity to condemn the atrocities took place in the past against Armenians lived in Ottoman territory.

Tracing the state responsibility of modern Turkey for the acts occurred in the past from international law perspective drives modern day scholars for a labyrinth to seek the connectivity of the past and state responsibility. Legal historian Vahagn Avedian has suggested in his article titled State Identity, Continuity, and Responsibility: The Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey and the Armenian Genocide” the responsibility lies in modern Turkey as it is the continuation of Ottoman Empire and his contention is based on the fact that only some minor changes happened when the republic replaced the empire. He shows many of those accused of war crimes and illegal confiscations were elevated to high positions in the republic and almost none was convicted for the committed internationally wrongful acts.

The lack of solid evidence and constant denial of Turkish government in both past and present has always hindered the threshold of creating genocide charges for the brutal acts committed against Armenian population, nevertheless the evidence left by some witnesses show the exact intent of Ottoman regime to eradicate Armenian community from their empire. As an example the memories written by American consulate in Harput Mr. Leslie Davis provide solid evidence of the horrendous massacre of Armenian civilians in the province of Harput. When it comes to tracing the intentional element of carrying out such heinous acts it is clear that orders stemmed from the authorities of Ottoman Empire to preserve its purity and the background before the events took place demonstrate the fact that Ottomans possessed the clear intention getting rid of its Armenian community. Since the individual responsibility lies in state ambiguity to prove today as all the responsible persons for Armenian genocide are dead and gone, the concern of state responsibility can be an ideal tool to use against Turkey from international legal perspective. In the context of bringing Turkey before justice the role of European Court of Human Rights can be taken as an ideal example as both Turkey and present day Armenia are members of the court. However due to the total absence of cases for the Armenian Genocide, the ECHR could draw arguments from other supranational courts where it is encouraged to foment dialogue between the courts’ judges. Indeed, even functionally specialized tribunals remain part of an integrated and interconnected system and have recourse to the same basic sources of international law.

All in all the attempt of proving Turkey’s responsibility international law by using available remedies through ICJ, ECHR of International Criminal Court seem to be twilight as I pointed above due to lack of clear evidence and other anomalies, yet the justice for the victims only can be rendered by going for a mutual reconciliation between modern state of Armenia and Republic of Turkey. The current camaraderie between France and German has shown us the one bitter enemies can become closer friends through good actions which eventually heal the memories of past and as it has been more than 100 years since this heinous crimes took place against Armenian people, Turkey should at least declare a note of apology for the victims and I believe such an act coming from the state whish was responsible for the actions would make more sense than grappling with vague circumstances under international law to prove justice. 

*Anastasia Glazova is a PhD researcher in Faculty of Law in Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Her research areas include international law, international maritime law, law of the sea and international human rights law. She can be reached at angla.1892[at]mail.ru

Punsara Amarasinghe is a PhD candidate at Institute of Law and Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa Italy. He held a research fellowship at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and obtained his Masters from International Law at South Asian University, New Delhi. He served as a visiting lecturer at Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo Sri Lanka and author can be reached at punsaraprint10[at]gmail.com

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International Law

A Threat Assessment of South China Sea

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Authors: Areeja Syed and Muhammad Rizwan*

In the international arena, rapidly evolving economic power, China has emerged as a colossal threat to the U.S and her hegemonic powers. 21st century is witnessing both U.S and Asia to bridge their gulfs and draw closer to each other. During the cold wartimes, the United States was more inclined to decrease the power and its influence of Soviet Union in Asia but with the massive alteration in the international political and economic scenario, upsurge of china and its regional dominion has become the main trepidation for the U.S. Many tactics have been adopted by U.S to contain china but many tensions keep arising between these states, like trade war, south china conflict, Taiwan issue.

It’s a well-established fact that The Pacific Ocean is one of the major and important Oceans in the world. The word pacific means peace and serenity. It was named Pacific in 1520 by a voyager Ferdinand Magellan when he sailed through it. The Pacific Ocean stretches from California to china covering 60 million square miles and spreads tens of thousands of feet under the outward of the ocean in many regions. Contrary to its name, The Pacific is, a violent and humongous water body. Most of its part is still unexplored and undiscovered yet this half-discovered ocean is contributing considerably in changing humans’ lifestyle through deep-sea excavating, industrialized harpooning and fossil-fuel fiery. This extensive ocean is replete with plenty of earth’s most idiosyncratic kinds of life. South China Sea is a part of Pacific Ocean and is a bone of contention between ASEAN states and China. The United States of America while having cordial relation with ASEAN state is trying act as balance in South China Sea. While running his presidential campaign, in 2018,Donald Trump viciously badgered Barack Obama for being bungling of averting China from escalating its influence in the South China Sea. Trump blamed Chinese Navy for being aggressive to the US in the undecided sea area. China has clashes with the US owing to the regional incongruities in the South China Sea. Also, China has disagreements with Japan in the East China Sea. Both the disputed regions are probable to be rich in oil reserves and several other natural resources and can enhance the international trade. China retains its claim, claiming almost the entire South China Sea.

It is a row over land and veracity over ocean areas, and the two island chains Parcels and the Spartlys, demanded by an assortment of nations in whole or in share. These chains include hundreds of sharp cliffs, minor islands, shorelines, and aquatic life, like the Scarborough lagoon, adjacent to one another. The ocean itself is a chief trading path and abode to fisheries on which the people living alongside the region depend for their wellbeing. China has always made extensive claims in South China Sea that whole sea belongs to it. It specifies the two clusters of islands sliding inside their limits entirely. Philippines is the other noteworthy plaintiff in the region and as a part of grouping considers its physical nearness to the spratly island as the foundation and primer. The other island chain, Scarborough Shoal well-known as Hengyang island in China was claimed by both the Philippines and China just over 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from Chinese territory. Other states like Malaysia and Brunei also approve their avowal to region in the South China as declared in The United Nations convention on the Maritime law, as described by UNCLOS. Burnei does not hold any of the disputed islands, but Malaysia has control over a quite minuscule number of Spratly islands.

The US navy claims that it is safeguarding and watching the South China Sea to guarantee the freedom of navigation in that region predominantly where China has seized many islands and reefs into its control. This disputed region is the route of trillions of dollars of trade travels annually which is at stake due to the conflict and belligerence in the South China Sea can also threaten and berate the safety of a region. This region cannot afford any armed skirmish that would have possibly far-ranging and callous repercussions. This war is the exact portrayal of China-U.S supremacy scuffle. The problem is for influence and military dominance in the region between China and US. It is becoming a same cold war like situation in which both countries are trying their best to dominate a particular region. But the problem is, during the course of these events even a miscalculation or small incident can escalate in to full fledge which will be very difficult to control even for belligerent parties.

*Muhammad Rizwan is pursuing M.phil in International Relations from COMSATS University Islamabad.

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International Law

National Interest surpassing human rights: Case study of Kashmir

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Authors: Rizwan Malik and Areeja Syed

The Indian government revoked the exceptional status accorded to Indian-occupied Kashmir in Indian constitution. This sudden development is the most sweeping political move on the disputed region in seventy years. A presidential pronouncement issued on August 5 revoked Article 370 of Indian constitution that ascertained the special rights to the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, including the rights to have her own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all affairs apart from communication, defence, and foreign policies. This shocking move literally shook Kashmir and Pakistan at their cores. Now It has been more than one month now since Indian forces started a lock down in Indian administered Kashmir. Due to continuous threat of mass protests against this illegal action, additional troops were deployed in already heavy militarized valley. Crippling curfew was imposed and Internet services were suspended. Indian security forces have also arrested all the political leadership of the valley. Different International media outlets have published news regarding the brutal suppression of local Kashmiri people by Indian forces.

With the evolution of United Nation and other international institutions, rights violation and other disputed issue that could undermine peace and stability are paid umpteen attentions by the international community. Time to time we have witnessed intervention on humanitarian bases by International Community .Even force was used in many states to stop oppressive regimes from committing atrocities.

India claims herself to be the largest democracy in the world and champion of human rights protection. But this is absolutely contrary and devious to the ground realities. Especially since BJP came into power in 2014 with an expansionist agenda, it is actively involved in different crimes and often violated the sovereignty of many states. BJP government has conducted military operation in Myanmar in 2015 without taking into confidence the local government. Later, Pakistan was targeted in February 2019 though it resulted in shooting down of one of Indian fighter jets. This shift has deteriorated the already-heightened tensions with neighboring Pakistan, which relegated its diplomatic relations with India.

Kashmir has been a bone of contention and a disputed region between Indian and Pakistan since 1947. Pakistan and India claim Kashmir in full but rule it partially. The nuclear-armed neighbors remain at daggers drawn over this issue and have fought three wars over this territory but Kashmir issue is still unresolved. A rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir has been continuing for past 30 years. United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions on Kashmir and has given Kashmir citizens the right of self-determination .UN instructed both India and Pakistan to withdraw their troops from disputed region and to organize plebiscite there. Though India did not agree to these demands and never held a plebiscite but a special status was granted to Indian occupied Kashmir which made it a semi-autonomous region. Different round of talks were arranged between India and Pakistan to solve this dispute which means that India recognized Kashmir as international dispute.

But on August 05, 2015 BJPs government removed this special status of Kashmir and directly imposed the rule of central  India.BJP has established a stance that Kashmir is integral part of India and vowed to attack even Pakistani administered Kashmir.

This illegal move of Indian authorities is accompanied by the brutal use of force in the valley. International community which asserts it as the protector of International law and human rights round the globe has basically done nothing against this inhuman/illegal occupation of Kashmir. Reason is that international community is following real politik .According to realist school of thought , International relations states only protect their own national interests. They do not have much appetite for human rights and International Law. This is best depicted in response of international community on Indian moves in Kashmir. If we analyze the international reactions to this recent development one by one we can see that these great powers have their own vested interest in India that is why they are not willing to take any concrete step. For example due to changing geopolitical situation in Asia-Pacific region United States considers India as its strategic ally against the regional power of China. According to US, Indian will contain expanding Chinese influence in south Asia and will act as balancing forces. Moreover Indian with its huge population and large economy is very good trading partner of United States .That is why US will not take any concrete steps against Indian aggression. Countries like France and Russia are huge arms exporters to India so they will not try to lose a client by taking any concrete steps against India. States like Saudi Arabia and UAE which have influence on India because to their oil exports and other trade relation will not take any action .Reason they have very strong trade ties which they do not want to threaten .Secondly they themselves are oppressing regimes so promoting human right in any other region will jeopardize their own position as international actor.

With this realpolitik prevailing at international politics Pakistan is left with pauce options. Pakistan has very strong religious and cultural bonding with Kashmir people and she considers it her legal and moral responsibility to help Kashmir people who are facing wrath of Indian forces. it is the responsibility of the International community to speak for the human rights violations in Kashmir instead on just focusing on their own vast national interests.

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International Law

A bird’s eye view of Asia: A continental landscape of minorities in peril

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Many in Asia look at the Middle East with a mixture of expectation of stable energy supplies, hope for economic opportunity and concern about a potential fallout of the region’s multiple violent conflicts that are often cloaked in ethnic, religious and sectarian terms.

Yet, a host of Asian nations led by men and women, who redefine identity as concepts of exclusionary civilization, ethnicity, and religious primacy rather than inclusive pluralism and multiculturalism, risk sowing the seeds of radicalization rooted in the despair of population groups that are increasingly persecuted, disenfranchised and marginalized.

Leaders like China’s Xi Jingping, India’s Narendra Modi, and Myanmar’s Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, alongside nationalist and supremacist religious figures ignore the fact that crisis in the Middle East is rooted in autocratic and authoritarian survival strategies that rely on debilitating manipulation of national identity on the basis of sectarianism, ethnicity and faith-based nationalism.

A bird’s eye view of Asia produces a picture of a continental landscape strewn with minorities on the defensive whose positioning as full-fledged members of society with equal rights and opportunities is either being eroded or severely curtailed.

It also highlights a pattern of responses by governments and regional associations that opt for a focus on pre-emptive security, kicking the can down the road and/or silent acquiescence rather than addressing a wound head-on that can only fester, making cures ever more difficult.

To be sure, multiple Asian states, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have at various times opened their doors to refugees.

Similarly, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) disaster management unit has focused on facilitating and streamlining repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

But a leaked report by the unit, AHA Centre, in advance of last June’s ASEAN summit was criticized for evading a discussion on creating an environment in which Rohingya would be willing to return.

The criticism went to the core of the problem: Civilizationalist policies, including cultural genocide, isolating communities from the outside world, and discrimination will at best produce simmering anger, frustration and despair and at worst mass migration, militancy and/or political violence.

A Uyghur member of the Communist Party for 30 years who did not practice his religion, Ainiwa Niyazi, would seem to be the picture-perfect model of a Chinese citizen hailing from the north-western province of Xinjiang.

Yet, Mr Niyazi was targeted in April of last year for re-education, one of at least a million Turkic Muslims interned in detention facilities where they are forced to internalize Xi Jinping thought and repudiate religious norms and practices in what constitutes the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history.

If past efforts, including an attempt to turn Kurds into Turks by banning use of Kurdish as a language that sparked a still ongoing low level insurgency, is anything to go by, China’s ability to achieve a similar goal with greater brutality is questionable.

“Most Uyghur young men my age are psychologically damaged. When I was in elementary school surrounded by other Uyghurs, I was very outgoing and active. Now I feel like I have been broken… Quality of life is now about feeling safe,” said Alim, a young Uyghur, describing to Adam Hunerven, a writer who focuses on the Uyghurs, arrests of his friends and people trekking south to evade the repression in Xinjiang cities.

Travelling in the region in 2014, an era in which China was cracking down on Uyghurs but that predated the institutionalization of the re-education camps, Mr. Hunerven saw that “the trauma people experienced in the rural Uyghur homeland was acute. It followed them into the city, hung over their heads and affected the comportment of their bodies. It made people tentative, looking over their shoulders, keeping their heads down. It made them tremble and cry.”

There is little reason to assume that anything has since changed for the better. On the contrary, not only has the crackdown intensified, fear and uncertainty has spread to those lucky enough to live beyond the borders of China. Increasingly, they risk being targeted by the long arm of the Chinese state that has pressured their host countries to repatriate them.

Born and raised in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, Rahima Akter, one of the few women to get an education among the hundreds of thousands who fled what the United Nations described as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, saw her dreams and potential as a role model smashed when she was this month expelled from university after recounting her story publicly.

Ms. Akter gained admission to Cox’s Bazar International University (CBIU) on the strength of graduating from a Bangladeshi high school, a feat she could only achieve by sneaking past the camp’s checkpoints, hiding her Rohingya identity, speaking only Bengali, dressing like a Bangladeshi, and bribing Bangladeshi public school officials for a placement.

Ms Akter was determined to escape the dire warnings of UNICEF, the United Nations’ children agency, that Rohingya refugee children risked becoming “a lost generation.”

Ms. Akter’s case is not an isolated incident but part of a refugee policy in an environment of mounting anti-refugee sentiment that threatens to deprive Rohingya refugees who refuse to return to Myanmar unless they are guaranteed full citizenship of any prospects.

In a move that is likely to deepen a widespread sense of abandonment and despair, Bangladeshi authorities, citing security reasons, this month ordered the shutting down of mobile services and a halt to the sale of SIM cards in Rohingya refugee camps and restricted Internet access. The measures significantly add to the isolation of a population that is barred from travelling outside the camps.

Not without reason, Bangladeshi foreign minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen, has blamed the international community for not putting enough pressure on Myanmar to take the Rohingyas back.

The UN “should go to Myanmar, especially to Rakhine state, to create conditions that could help these refugees to go back to their country. The UN is not doing the job that we expect them to do,” Mr. Abdul Momen said.

The harsh measures are unlikely to quell increased violence in the camps and continuous attempts by refugees to flee in search of better pastures.

Suspected Rohingya gunmen last month killed a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party. Two refugees were killed in a subsequent shootout with police.

The plight of the Uyghurs and the Rohingya repeats itself in countries like India with its stepped up number of mob killings that particularly target Muslims, threatened stripping of citizenship of close to two million people in the state of Assam, and unilateral cancellation of self-rule in Kashmir.

Shiite Muslims bear the brunt of violent sectarian attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Malaysia, Shiites, who are a miniscule minority, face continued religious discrimination.

The Islamic Religious Department in Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state, this week issued a sermon that amounts to a mandatory guideline for sermons in mosques warning against “the spread of Shia deviant teachings in this nation… The Muslim ummah (community of the faithful) must become the eyes and the ears for the religious authorities when stumbling upon activities that are suspicious, disguising under the pretext of Islam,” the sermon said.

Malaysia, one state where discriminatory policies are unlikely to spark turmoil and political violence, may be the exception that confirms the rule.

Ethnic and religious supremacism in major Asian states threatens to create breeding grounds for violence and extremism. The absence of effective attempts to lessen victims’ suffering by ensuring that they can rebuild their lives and safeguard their identities in a safe and secure environment, allows wounds to fester.

Permitting Ms. Akter, the Rohingya university student, to pursue her dream, would have been a low-cost, low risk way of offering Rohingya youth an alternative prospect and at the very least a reason to look for constructive ways of reversing what is a future with little hope.

Bangladeshi efforts to cut off opportunities in the hope that Rohingya will opt for repatriation have so far backfired. And repatriation under circumstances that do not safeguard their rights is little else than kicking the can down the road.

Said human rights advocate Ewelina U. Ochab: “It is easy to turn a blind eye when the atrocities do not happen under our nose. However, we cannot forget that religious persecution anywhere in the world is a security threat to everyone, everywhere.”

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