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)
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.
Reimagining the contours of “Common Heritage of Mankind” vis-à-vis right to Health
Authors: Manini Syali and Vinayak Jhamb*
In the recent meeting of G20, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for sharing medical research freely and openly between nation states for the development of mankind. This raises interesting questions with respect to re-assessing the existing contours of the Common Heritage Mankind principle (CHM), commonly applied in the context of natural resources. This become important especially in the present context when the entire mankind, as a single unit, is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth unprecedented challenges before the world community and not even a single nation state has remained out of reach of the damage and adverse impacts it can cause. Moreover, it would not be wrong to equate the magnitude of this contagious spread with the two World Wars which the world had the misfortune to witness.
It is also a well-established fact that due to historical as well as socio-economic reasons not all nation states are at an equal footing when it comes to infrastructural development. This in the present context becomes extremely important and places a burden on the developed states to share the health care resources they possess with the other less resourceful countries. It is pertinent to note that an appeal in this regard was also made by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the recent G20 meeting, for utilizing and sharing medical research freely and equally between nation states for the benefit of the entire mankind.
Countries have started working in this direction and the United States has already announced financial assistance of 174 million USD to 64 countries, for effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of this amount, 2.9 million USD is being offered to the Indian government for preparing laboratories, activating case findings and conducting event-based surveillance.
This call made to the World Community to operate as a unified whole for disease eradication is not new and also gets reflected in the goals and purposes for which the World Health Organization was established. Moreover, the nomenclature used for the organization clearly signifies that the focus was on looking at health as a global agenda which goes beyond artificially constructed sovereign borders. Despite existence of a specialized United Nations agency and acknowledgement of right to health as a primary human right by virtue of Article 12, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, there remains a disparity between the world population when it comes to accessibility of health care facilities.
Moreover, the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health is a good example which can substantiate the above discussed proposition. The Declaration attempted to reconcile the existing conflicts between Trade Law and Right to Health and also responded to the concerns of developing countries about the obstacles they faced when seeking to implement measures to promote access to affordable medicines in the interest of public health in general. This demonstrates that Health Related rights stand in conflict with parallelly operating legal regime, namely, International Trade Law. The focus of the Declaration remained on the following health related aspects of TRIPS: Compulsory Licensing, Parallel Imports and the Transition Period for Least Developed Countries. Despite existence of such an exhaustive legal regime, health care remains far from becoming universally available. The present article, thus, attempts to analyze whether the scope of health related rights need to be expanded beyond the already existing legal frameworks and whether international law doctrine of common heritage of mankind can encompass universal health care and related aspects.
Common Heritage of Mankind and Healthcare
The term “Common Heritage of Mankind” is a comprehensible term which needs to be explored completely. The fundamental premise of this concept entails the principle of equity in the real sense of the term. It states that all the resources available in different geographical set ups have to be adequately allocated amongst the world population with utmost precision and parity. However, the concept has never been followed strictusensu at the international forefront. It is absolutely unimaginable to think that all the nation-states sharing the global resources equitably. But, one of the major lacunas highlighted by the authors is the lack of considering “health resource” as an intrinsic part of Common Heritage of Mankind. The scholars across the globe have turned a blind eye to this issue since time immemorial. They claim that once this first generation human right enters into the domain of “common heritage of mankind”, it would essentially open up a Pandora box as the first generation human rights of “right to life” which has been enshrined in the International Convention on civil and political rights”. The sanctity of the binding nature of the Convention is beyond debate ,thus, formulating right to health as one of the unmoving legal principles at the international forefront is a herculean task.
Concrete and Express Recognition of Right to Health
This does not mean that the international community has been absolutely oblivious of this issue. However, their efforts have only helped in unifying right to health as a directory measure at the international forefront. The lack of concrete steps in this regard still haunts the international legal regime. The authors under this piece are trying to put across a question in front of the world about the need of having a specific regulation reconsidering the right to health as a valuable resource. The domestic legal regimes very well have their set of standard operating procedures vis-à-vis this issue but the vacuum at the international level still persists.There have been times wherein the expanding contours of trade and commerce have sabotaged public health crisis which is akin to a quagmire of innumerable problems which have no definite solutions. Public health is one of those invaluable assets which have to percolate at every level of governance. So, adequate steps need to be taken in this regard and this can only be done with the co-jointed efforts of the international community members and the civil societies operating independent of any governmental control.
Unprecedented Times call for Unprecedented measures
The contemporary crisis which has taken a vice grip of everyone across the globe has opened up our narrow minds. The problem of Corona Virus which has become an intrinsic matter of discussion in every household across the world today is increasing exponentially. This emanated from a small town of China named as Wuhan and spread like a wildfire across the globe is highly uncalled for. The plight of Italy, Spain, USA and Iran cannot be attributed apt words. The entire globe is facing an existential crisis because the governments have always lived in delirium and never abided by the principle of “Prevention is better than cure”. India also is facing the brunt of this virus with more than 1200 positive cases registered by the Indian Council of Medical research in consonance with the Health Ministry of India. So, the problem which perpetuated in China is taking a toll on all of us out there. But, at this juncture, the authors want to pose a question to the world- All those medical equipments and technologies which the countries are intending to import, should they not be readily available without any charges in such times of need? Or will excessive imports by these needful countries not disturb their Balance of Payment fulcrum? These questions might have their roots embedded in the economic realms but have a specific legal tangent attached to them.
But, the authors just intend to highlight the immediate need of having health as a specific resource which can comfortably fall under the domain of “Common Heritage of Mankind”. If the news agencies are to be believed, China has promised to help the other countries in distress, but then a thought pops up about the existence of IPR issues while sharing the requisite vaccine? Or what shall be the opportunity cost which China shall ask for in this process? These questions are popping up time and again in our minds and the authors are absolutely not familiar with any concrete solution other than making public health a resource under the common heritage of mankind.
Though it has been rightly said by Robert Merton that “It is good to ask questions but it is always better to find solutions to those questions”, but such complex set of questions cannot be answered in one go. They need proper analysis of the problem and then only certain concrete measures could be thought of. The idea behind writing this piece was to ignite the spirit of research in establishing the inter-relationship between the commonly found concept of “common heritage of mankind” and right to health as a resource. It would be highly falsified on our parts if we bombard the readers with a special set of suggestions because the cost-benefit analysis of each of those suggestions is varied and comprehensive. Thus, the authors have left the door ajar so that the readers are able to familiarize with the given set of problems which are staring us and then accordingly ponder about the need of expanding the contours of “Common heritage of mankind”.
*Vinayak Jhamb is a Research Scholar at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi
Curious Case Of Nirbhaya And International Court Of Justice
On December 16th, 2012, a 23year old physiotherapy intern known as Nirbhaya was gang-raped and heinously murdered in a moving bus in Delhi, she died subsequently in a hospital in Singapore. The aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident witnessed widespread public outcry, which resulted in the amendments to various provisions of the Indian criminal law both substantive and procedural. Despite the radical reform in the criminal law jurisprudence, the convicts remain defiant and have recently moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking a stay.
On 16th March2020, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) rejected the plea of one of the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case. The convicts were slated to be hanged on 20th March 2020, following which the convicts have written a letter to the ICJ seeking an urgent hearing to prevent “unlawful execution”. The letter reads as:
“I write to you to request your support and help, in whatever form, to prevent this barbaric and inhumane punishment from being inflicted upon convicts, the death penalty has no relevance in a progressive and modern International era. Inflicting it upon prisoners, who belong to the economically most vulnerable section of society will only serve to take out international forum several steps back.”
Notwithstanding this plea to the ICJ, the convicts were hanged on 20th March. This brief write-up intends to unravel the position of individuals in the ICJ and the progressive mechanism of individual complaint mechanism under international human rights law against the State.
Access to Individual under ICJ
The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations(UN) that resolves disputes between States. The issue in the Nirbhaya case with regard to the ICJ is whether individuals can approach the ICJ claiming remedies against the State, the subject matter of which is purely domestic or in short does the ICJ have jurisdiction to entertain the claim made by the convicts. According to the former Supreme Court judge of India BN Srikrishna, the ICJ has no jurisdiction to order a stay; his point is the ICJ cannot act as a court of appeal, this is true because the jurisdiction of the ICJ is based on the consent between States and not individual, this is also reflected in Article 34 of the Statute of the ICJ (ICJ Statute). Further, the entire judicial process in the Nirbhaya case was proper, ie. hearing from the trial court to the Supreme Court; the convicts were provided several opportunities to file review and curative petitions. The larger question that needs to be addressed is the relationship between individuals in the ICJ. Firstly, over the years several judges and scholars of international law have argued for amending Article 34 of ICJ Statute to include individuals; moreover ,the Advisory Committee of Jurist, who drafted the PCIJ Statute ( Predecessor to the ICJ Statute) deliberated in detail the issue of locus standi; unfortunately, lack of support from majority saw the idea being dropped. Secondly, the famous dictums in the PCIJ and ICJ refer to the fact that injury to the individual constitutes an injury to the States, as asserted in the 2007 Diallo (preliminary Objection) diplomatic protection of the aliens extends to the protection of human rights; however, the extent and scope of these human rights are very much limited. Thirdly, according to Hersch Lauterpacht, the original purpose of the ICJ was to be a court of International Law, rather than a human rights court; thus individuals approaching the ICJ demanding Justice would require to circumvent the original intention of the drafters. Fourthly, post world war 1 witnessed the formulation several multilateral treaties to safeguard the rights of minorities, the PCIJ and ICJ through its advisory opinions had touched upon these treaties in the context of individual rights; however, the PCIJ and ICJ consistently refrained from invoking presumption against individuals rights and duties. Fifthly, the sole decision in the ICJ that has some proximity to the Nirbhaya case is the LaGrand case, in which the ICJ affirmed that individual might possess direct rights under treaties, however, in the La Grand case, the ICJ did not equate the right of consular access as human rights and thus adopting a strict state-centric interpretation. Moreover, the Judgement acknowledges the fact that the individuals approaching the ICJ could invoke rights through the national State.
Sixthly, in international law, the concept of state immunity has trumped human rights or individual rights, in the Arrest warrant case and the Jurisdictional immunities case the ICJ firmly establishes the fact that immunity overrides international crimes, although the backdrop of these cases significantly differs from Nirbhaya, the undisputed fact that remains is State is protected under the ambit of immunity. Taking all these factors into account, it was on the expected lines that the convicts in the Nirbhaya case would be unsuccessful in espousing their point of view in the ICJ via a letter; moreover, the jurisprudence of ICJ in terms of cases akin Nirbhaya are none; therefore the ICJ will continue its trend of ‘State-Only’ conception of international legal personality.
Individual Complaint Mechanism under International Human Rights Law
The Nirbhaya convicts rather than taking recourse to the ICJ could have sought remedies under individual complaint mechanism of Individual Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), however this would also be a futile exercise considering the fact that, India is not a signatory to the Optional Protocol of ICCPR.The ICCPR under Article 28 provides for the establishment of the Human Rights Committee (HRC) consisting of 18 members. The committee meets three times per year; the State party must submit a report to the HRC dealing with the implementation of the ICCPR’s provisions, after the initial report a State has to submit periodic reports, based on which the committee prepares its concluding observations. Further, the HRC is competent to entertain an individual complaint for alleged violation of an individual’s rights under ICCPR. The HRC also provides general comments to clarify the contents of ICCPR’S provisions. Assuming that India is a signatory to the optional protocol of ICCPR,TheNirbhaya convicts hypothetically speaking could have approached the HRC by taking recourse to Article 6(2) of ICCPR which reads:
“In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes by the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out according to a final judgement rendered by a competent court”.
Assuming that the convicts approached the HRC, literal interpretation of the above provision points out that, the crime of rape and murder falls under the ambit of ‘most serious crimes’, however, India does not have codified list of crimes which constitutes ‘most serious crimes’, it is upon the courts in India to determine the same on a case to case basis, in short, it is a matter of pure judicial discretion. The general comment no.36 on Article 6 of ICCPR on the right to life in paragraph 16 implicitly recognise that countries which have not abolished the death penalty, to lay out clear and stringent criteria for retaining capital punishment; moreover the HRC in August 2019 identified the list of issues before submission of the fourth periodic report of India, one of the issue being the elaboration on any comprehensive review of the relevant legislation to ensure that the death penalty may be imposed only for the most severe crime and indicate whether the imposition of the death penalty is mandatory for certain crimes. The legislature in India requires to framean enumerative list of ‘most serious crimes’, which fits the death penalty template, instead of passing the buck to the judiciary. Despite the cacophony surrounding the Nirbhaya verdict, justice was meted out to the victim on 20th March with the hanging of the convicts.
Affixing China’s Liability for COVID-19 spread
Authors: Manini Syali and Alisha Syali*
The article analyses whether International Environmental Law can be invoked for making China liable for the COVID-19 pandemic, which is said to have its origin in the wet markets of Wuhan, and if there exists an interrelationship between Right to Health and Environment.
The world is currently witnessing an unprecedented health crisis in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, which is said to have its origin in the wet markets of Chinese city of Wuhan, infamous for its exotic meat products widely consumed by the local populations in the name of prevailing superstitious practices. The virus which has now affected 199 countries, has resulted in a death toll of 34,000 so far. China on the other hand is on a road to recovery and has started lifting the lock downs, which for months made its population live in isolation. The question arising at this stage is whether China should be made responsible for the apocalyptic conditions it has brought before the world community, despite its previous promises to shut down its wet markets during the 2003 SARS outbreak and if International legal framework regulating Trans boundary environmental damage is appropriate to affix this liability. An attempt in this article will, thus, be made to analyse the law on Trans boundary environmental damage in the context of contagious disease transmission across sovereign borders.
Development of law on Trans boundary environmental damage
In the Trail Smelter arbitration, the world community for the first time witnessed that the concept of ‘sovereignty’ is not absolute and no nation state can be allowed to use its sovereign territory in such a manner so as to cause harm to another nation state.The tribunal in this case laid down the principle in the following words “under the principles of international law, as well as of the law of the United States, no State has the right to use or permit the use of its territory in such a manner as to cause injury by fumes in or to the territory of another or the properties or persons therein, when the case is of serious consequence and the injury is established by clear and convincing evidence.”
The concept, however, took a concrete shape only through the Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration, which went on to impose responsibility upon nation States for ensuring that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
A major criticism against the primary International environmental instruments, namely the Stockholm Declaration and the Rio Declaration, has been that they remain in the form of soft law norms and never actually had any strong enforcement mechanism behind them. It would, however, not be wrong to state that this proposition does not hold good any longer and International jurisprudence has also proved the contrary. A good example of the same is the landmark Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which ‘the due diligence obligations’ of nation states in Trans boundary contexts were upheld by the World Court. The Court took note of the looming threats which nuclear weapons pose on the environment and went on to highlight that “environment can never be seen in abstraction but represents the living space, the quality of life and the very health of human beings, including generations unborn.” The court further laid emphasis on the general obligation of States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control, respect the environment of other States or of areas beyond national control and held it to be a part of the corpus of international law relating to the environment.
A similar question was also again raised before the ICJ in the case between Ecuador vs. Colombia (2008) .The incident involved spray of herbicide by Colombia in the sovereign territory of Ecuador and it was contended that Colombia has violated its obligations under international law by causing or allowing the deposit on the territory of Ecuador of toxic herbicides that have caused damage to human health, property and the environment. The case, however, was settled amicably by both the parties but nonetheless raises interesting observations with respect to International responsibility of nation states to not harm the sound environmental conditions of other member nations of the world community.
Does the concept of Trans boundary Environmental damage hold application when Human Health is in a jeopardy?
Environment related rights have not been expressly incorporated in any of the Human Rights instrument existing at the International level. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)under Article 12 (b), has nonetheless mentioned improvement of environmental hygiene to be a precondition of Right to Health. The drafters of the Covenant with the help of this provision, thus, acknowledged the existing interrelationship between right to health and sound environmental conditions.
Furthermore, under modern day International Law, nature has never been seen in isolation and has always been interpreted in the context of socio-economic environment, artificially constructed by mankind. It is pertinent to note that both the Stockholm Conference (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment) and the Rio Conference (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) were titled in such a manner that they remained reflective of the Human development aspects attached to them. The titles further demonstrate that these key environmental law conferences and the legal instruments, which were a by-product of them, never truly focused on nature conservation in isolation from man-kind. In fact, the two leading Environmental Conventions i.e. Convention on Bio-Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) look at sustainable development as a matter of concern and do not have nature conservation as their primary objective. It can thus be stated that the subject matter of international environment law is sustainable use of environment by human beings.
An analysis of the above discussed legal propositions, thus, makes it clear that the currently existing International Enviro-legal jurisprudence is sufficient to hold a nation state accountable, if a contagious disease travels across its borders and causes damage of a trans-boundary nature. The reason behind this is that there exist a requirement to exercise due diligence while undertaking any activity within the sovereign borders. Furthermore, this pre-condition to any developmental or commercial activity does not remain limited to not causing harm to the ‘natural eco-system’ and includes granting protection to human survival as well, because, the word environment under International Environmental Law,is inclusive of the man-made environment and safe and healthy living conditions of the present generation and of the generations unborn.
Therefore, for the purpose of affixing the liability of China under International Law, the legal framework governing Trans boundary environmental damage can be utilised, since, the spread of a contagious infection clearly demonstrates that there was a breach in observing due diligence obligations while undertaking commercial activities in the wet markets, which adversely impacted an important human right, namely, enjoyment of safe and healthy environment.
Both authors are writing in their personal capacity. All views expressed are personal.
* Alisha Syali is a BA LLB (H) Student at Amity Law School, Delhi.
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