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Reserve judgment: Arbitrating energy disputes in Africa

Simon Sloane

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As African states seek to use national laws to protect their natural resources and increase revenue from their development, Fieldfisher dispute resolution partner, Simon Sloane, considers the difficulties facing energy companies seeking to protect their investments while respecting the transformational needs of host states.

Africa’s capacity to benefit equitably from its own natural resources continues to be one of the main challenges facing many of its most energy-abundant jurisdictions.

While blaming this state of affairs on the old “resource curse” myth is simplistic and unhelpful, it remains the case that nations rich in resources tend to be poorer and less developed than those which are not, with many of the benefits of their exploitation going offshore.

Despite the clear moral case for African countries to profit more from their energy and mineral reserves, legally the picture is more complicated.

Much of the cost and risk of extracting these resources tends to be shouldered by foreign investors, who expect to be compensated for their outlays and assume that the terms on which they invested will be protected by local and international laws.

Consequently, any new domestic legislation guaranteeing host countries a “fair” share of the revenues from internationally funded projects is often treated as breaching protections given to foreign investors in bilateral investment treaties (BITs).

There have been numerous incidents of foreign companies successfully bringing arbitrations against African states that have tried to amend investment terms retrospectively, with investors relying on safeguards such as fair and equitable treatment (FET) and non-expropriation rights provided in BITs.

This has led to growing scepticism among African governments of (particularly first and second generation) BITs, as these treaties are often perceived as looking after the interests of foreign investors, to the detriment of states’ needs to transform their economies.

Affirmative action

A handful of African countries, including South Africa and Tanzania, have recently cancelled a number of their BITs – a situation that has created tension between the desire to preserve domestic assets for the national benefit and the need to attract foreign investment to fuel economic growth.

Domestic legislation designed to promote equitable ownership include South Africa’s black economic empowerment initiatives, which compel 26% of shares in mining assets to be distributed to disadvantaged local people.

In Tanzania, new laws including the Natural Wealth and Resources Contracts (Review and Re-negotiation of Unconscionable Terms) Act, 2017 and the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act, give the government power to renegotiate contracts with investors on terms more favourable to the state.

Although international arbitration is generally a last resort for resources companies when disputes arise, lately there has been a noticeable increase in requests for arbitration in circumstances where African states have sought to implement alternative local laws.

BIT terms and Western-centric legal principles rarely align with traditional African customary laws and there is a growing unwillingness in many African states to accept foreign rulings over key national assets, which can make the enforcement of an international arbitration award against a state politically challenging.

Since relatively few African court decisions are published, it is hard to tell statistically where many countries are in terms of compliance with international arbitration awards, and how many are resisting enforcement.

There have been some very public rejections of international arbitrators’ decisions.

Zimbabwe, for example, has resisted recent efforts to enforce awards made against it in US courts.

Nigerian courts have also refused the local enforcement of a multi-billion dollar London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA)commercial arbitration award against a state-owned entity in favour of foreign investors, notwithstanding that the English courts have upheld the validity of the award (see P&ID Ltd v Federal State of Nigeria).

Yet even in cases where the authority of international arbitrators is accepted, the variety and nature of local laws can cause problems when it comes to implementing awards in African states.

Parallel proceedings

Growing distrust of the international arbitration system among African governments is a considerable problem for foreign investors, especially in the highly litigious energy sector, as there is currently no trusted alternative for resolving disputes.

Historically, arbitration has not been high on the agenda for most African states and relatively few African judges have significant experience of international arbitration.

Efforts are being made to redress this through legal education and there have been moves to establish regional arbitration centres throughout Africa that have the confidence of both states and investors, although these are yet to gain significant traction.

In the meantime, there continue to be serious problems in resolving energy project disputes caused by parallel proceedings, where one party will ignore an arbitration clause in a contract and ask for the matter to be addressed in a local court.

In these situations, partiesend up straddling one or more proceedings on the same issues, with different tribunals and courts regularly reaching different decisions and with the added hurdle of a party facing competing anti-suit or anti-arbitration injunctions.

Such circumstances are common where at least one partner is foreign and relies on an arbitration clause in a contract or its public international law rights under a BIT, while local parties are more naturally inclined to seek decisions from local judges.

Often, the impasse is caused by local judges who are suspicious of the international arbitration process and are not willing to abdicate their powers to a foreign tribunal .

Pre-empting problems

In many cases, the need for arbitration can be avoided by careful and far-sighted approaches to contract negotiation.

Simply including an arbitration clause in a contract will not automatically prevent the parties ending up in messy disputes being contested simultaneously in domestic and international courts.

Energy projects especially will usually involve a complicated series of contracts between international energy companies and one or more domestic counterparts, including government bodies, local investors and contractors.

If a domestic party decides to ignore an arbitration clause and asks a local court to intervene, the foreign party then has to choose whether to seek an injunction and refer the dispute to arbitration, or submit to the local court’s jurisdiction.

In these situations, the international partner is likely to have difficulty locally enforcing any award they obtain, if they proceed with the arbitration.

Alternatively, the international party can opt to engage in the local court process which can expose them to the vagaries of an unfamiliar legal system.

Where there is a suite of contracts containing different arbitration clauses, this leaves the parties open to arguments about which arbitration clause governs which dispute and the possibility of multiple proceedings.

Habitually, there is a lack of attention given by lawyers drafting contracts to what are sometimes mandatory laws to protect natural resources.

Rules obliging infrastructure developers to use local contractors on large projects are also frequently ignored.

This failure to respect local laws can lead to litigation in local courts, especially as communities become more empowered to challenge this practice, over issues which should have been addressed at the drafting stage.

While not wholly avoidable, the risk of becoming embroiled in paralysing disagreements can be minimised by careful drafting and fully thinking through how proceedings will work in particular African jurisdictions.

Intra-African arbitration centres

One of the solutions being implemented to improve the perception of international arbitration in African disputes is the establishment of local arbitration centres.

In 2016 alone, there were more than 70 international arbitration centres operating across Africa,, with varying degrees of credibility, and more have sprung up since.

The Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, established in 1979, has been notably successful in attracting Arab and north-Saharan arbitrations.

In Nigeria, the Lagos Court of Arbitration is growing in stature, as are the Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC) in Rwanda and the Ghana Arbitration Centre.

The Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Centre (CIMAC) in Morocco and the Mauritius International Arbitration Centre (MIAC), which was previously an offshoot of the LCIA, are also actively seeking to play active roles in resolving African disputes.

China’s approach to arbitrating in Africa is also worth paying attention to. The China-Africa Joint Arbitration Centre (CJAC) in Shanghai was specifically set up to deal with infrastructure project disputes, and China is now looking to set up centres with broader mandates in East and West Africa.

The goal of all of these African centres is to regionalise arbitration, so that cases involving precious national assets are dealt with in Africa by African lawyers and arbitrators, with the buy-in of African governments and international investors.

However, until local courts are equipped to play a supportive role in arbitration, it may be hard for these centres to command confidence, especially when there are so many centres competing to hear arbitrations.

Transparency within the local court system also needs to improve, as where there is little or no access to court judgments, the worst assumptions are going to prevail.

International investors need to feel they can trust the integrity of local courts before they can be comfortable with their handling of cases.

The Paris-headquartered International Court of Arbitration (ICA) is pushing to improve the transparency of enforcement, on the grounds that it is important for tribunals and courts to know what other courts are doing, and for the rest of the world to see that key treaties are not being overturned and set aside.

The Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) is similarly seeking to facilitate a pro-arbitration stance in West Africa.

It is worth noting that suggestions around using institutionally appointed arbitrators, who have the advantage of proven expertise in the area they are arbitrating on, have generally received a cool reception by courts, states and investors.

Stabilisation clauses

The use of stabilisation clauses in contracts as a means for foreign investors to mitigate or manage political risks associated with their project is coming under scrutiny in Africa.

The World Bank and other multi-lateral development organisations favour the deployment of clauses that allow an investor to sue a state if the terms on which they invested change, as a way of increasing investment in Africa and developing economies in general.

But it is becoming increasingly evident that such clauses bind African governments and prevent them from amending local labour and environmental laws or their fiscal regimes, even if such reforms are deemed necessary to transform their societies and enhance domestic economies.

Although many African countries recognise that including stabilisation clauses in a BIT is likely to lead to expensive disputes that state balance sheets can ill afford, the need to attract foreign investment means that most governments are still willing to take the risk.

This is an area that multi-lateral organisations need to review, as it is clear that the current situation does not adequately serve the transformational needs of many African states.

New model treaties

Simultaneously with the growth of local arbitration centres, a raft of regional investment and co-operation agreements have sprung up to foster intra-African state and private investment from home-grown and international sources.

The majority of these agreements contain carve-outs expressly to enable African states to address their transformational needs, including exemptions for disenfranchised communities and the need to protect natural resources, without the fear of incurring liability to foreign investors.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), signed in Kigali in March 2018, is intended to provide a platform for intra-African investment between 27 African Union member states, both at state level and for private investors.

It is also hoped that the AfCFTA will go some way towards dealing with the perception that foreign investors have advantages over local partners under traditional BITs, and with some of the problems of enforcing courts’ decisions on disputes.

The New York Convention

One major benefit of international arbitration is the ease of enforcement in foreign jurisdictions which are signatories to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (“the New York Convention”).

In sub-Saharan Africa, a region which comprises 46 of Africa’s 54 countries, many but not all jurisdictions have ratified the New York Convention.

The challenge now will be to ensure that the convention is properly implemented and respected by all signatories.

African governments are also closely following developments in Europe around the Investment Court System as an alternative to international arbitration, for resolving investor disputes in EU member states.

Tackling corruption

Non-governmental organisation Transparency International singles out the global oil and gas industry as one of the business sectors at the greatest risk of corruption, with Africa being a particular hot spot.

While there has been ample evidence of corrupt practices in some jurisdictions, observers should be cautious generalising about Africa, as many African countries are highly ranked as places to do business cleanly and legally.

Corruption is one of the issues at the heart of many governments’ dissatisfaction with the international arbitration system, as it smacks of injustice that an investor may be involved in illegal activity, by coercion or by choice, yet still win significant arbitration awards.

There have been a few advances in BITs and model laws that indicate international law is starting to get to grips with the issue.

The Dutch Model BIT published earlier this year allows tribunals to take into account whether there has been corruption when making an award – a development that has been largely welcomed and is likely to be replicated in other BITs around the world.

The Nigeria-Morocco BIT (the Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Investment Agreement) signed in late 2016, which contains a comprehensive anti-corruption provision, is also seen as one of the most progressive new formats of BIT.

The future of African energy disputes

Anyone considering making investments in Africa needs to be aware that there are a number of regional treaties to be complied with in order to benefit from investment protections.

There continue to be unresolved questions around enforcement mechanisms and what protections are enforceable through arbitration, especially as countries pull out of BITs.

For users or would-be users of the arbitration system, there are some difficult choices to be made for those who find themselves in the midst of several parallel proceedings.

While disputants may be convinced that they are legally right that arbitration is the way to resolve an issue, parties need to be very certain that there is some kind of enforcement option available to justify the time and expense involved.

Otherwise, disputes can turn into difficult procedural battles between arbitrators and local court proceedings, leading to spiralling costs and project delays, ultimately forcing parties to abandon the case.

Simon Sloane is a dispute resolution partner at European law firm, Fieldfisher. He is a leading expert in international arbitration and ADR with over 25 years' experience of advising construction, energy and insurance clients. For more information on our international arbitration expertise, please visit the relevant pages of the Fieldfisher website. https://www.fieldfisher.com/

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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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