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International Law

South China Sea Dialogue 2019

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Centre for Security Studies, O P Jindal Global University organized (November 29) an international conference on the topic ‘The South China Sea: Current Challenges and Future Perspective’ at India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi. During the conference presentations were made by 14 eminent scholars from different think tanks and universities of India and attended by more than 50 scholars, academics, media persons, and students.

While giving the introductory remarks Dr. Pankaj Jha, coordinator of the conference and Centre for Security Studies said that the purpose is to highlight the evolving dynamics in the South China / East Vietnam sea, and how it would have an impact on great power politics as well as the faith on the international maritime order. He clearly said that the time has come for the international community to take note of the developments in SCS and work out a feasible solution protecting interest of smaller nations. In his opening address Professor Sreeram Chaulia, Dean of Jindal School of International Affairs said that the policy of US president while referring to his newly released book ‘Trumped’ talked about post US international order and gave a detailed description about how the Beijing led order would be a problem for the international community. He exhorted the scholars and academics to raise the issue in every forum to highlight the problems and cautioned that US has to commit itself to international responsibilities rather than asking for a raise for the costs of stationing US troops in Korea and Japan. He said the all UNSC permanent members should take cognizance of the developments and call a meeting of UNSC to highlight the need to take precautionary measures.

The draft COC need to be finalized without compromising on the rights of smaller nations such as Vietnam. Professor Brahma Chellaney said that Vietnam’s response to Chinese activities in Vanguard bank need to be noted and lauded. He said that despite dismal and minimum support from international community, Vietnam saw to it that its EEZ and its maritime interests are not hampered and put up a strong resistance to China. He said that the global community needs more action, and commitment to the cause otherwise the world will witness that the South China Sea might turn into a Beijing lake. He said that China has created a reclaimed area equivalent to Washington DC in the SCS region, and it would take lot of ammunition to flatten the reclaimed land. For a free Indo-Pacific Vision, South China Sea is the critical connector. The attention that should be given to the region should be more from India also as the effect would be effect in Indian Ocean also. The military activities and also demarcation of illegal maritime zones by China means that it would become completely under Chinese control. He said that Exxon Mobil a US company is planning to withdraw from South China Sea, and it means that US influence is incrementally eroding. The withdrawal of Exxon Mobil would mean that the company is not sure of US support for its exploration activities.

In the first session of the conference, Dr. Rajaram panda, the Governing Council member ofICWA of Ministry of External Affairs supported think tank said that the time has come to limit Chinese assertive postures and undertake deep thinking so that the increasing Chinese activities can be curbed, and China must comply with international rules and regulations. He said that the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) to which China is a signatory need to be revised and amended so that threat or use of force should be seen as an act of aggression by any dialogue partner. He said that there are a number of issues involved in the strategic sea lanes and it needs ASEAN activism to address these issues so that the ASEAN multilateral organization stay relevant for its members. 

Dr Vijay Sakhuja said that while maritime domain awareness and standard operating procedures need to be framed in the context of South China Sea, the challenge is to create marine domain awareness also which is more about undersea minerals, and other valuable resources. Unfortunately, the debate is about maritime zones not the huge resources which exists and for which China has started exploration and research activities taking non-contentious zones as its domain. Oliver Gonsalves of NMF, an Indian Navy think tank said that the oil exploration activities and legitimate research activities has been thwarted by Chinese naval activities and many nations have withdrawn from the EEZ of the claimant states with the exception of China. Chinese dominance in strategic sea lanes have an impact on international trade and commerce and also marine life as well as fishing activities. Dr Faisal Ahmed, said that there are economic aspects of Chinese activities and proposed that the coastal countries and other partner countries can engage in joint exploration, knowledge sharing, and mutual capacity building in this area.

Moreover, fisheries in SCS accounts for an estimated 12 per cent of the global fish catch. It is however likely to witness a decline owing to the damaging coral reefs caused due to artificial islands and installations. The marine ecosystem is becoming gradually vulnerable, which is a serious cause of concern. Dr. Nguyen Ba Cuong, from Scientific Research Institute of Sea & Islands, Vietnam, highlighted Vietnam’s Perspective on Developments in the SCS and said that China has dispatched a ship for a months-long seismic survey, together with armed escorts, into Tu Chinh–Vung May Basin along with its continued harassments with Vietnam’s longstanding oil and gas activities in Nam Con Son Basin since June, whichever is all well within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. These and other developments underscored the increasing violations of China on its neighbors’ EEZ and continental shelves and just how critical managing and resolving tensions in the South China Sea are, for Vietnam and for region. He said that the international community needs to take note of Chinese expansionism, the power of international law in securing the rule-based international system, and the effective balance of power which is essential for maintaining the law and order in the Indo-Pacific region.

Chairing the second session, Brigadier (Dr.) Vinod Anand, Research Director, Vivekananda International Foundation said that the resolution of SCS is important for the safety and security of the maritime trade and commerce and in case it is not resolved under certain international guidelines then the situation would become grim and alarming. Navy Captain(Dr.) Sarabjeet Parmar, Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation opined that the South China Sea is host to multiple case studies revolving round power dynamics, rules-based order, sovereignty of islands, and the interpretation, respect, and adherence to international law. The tribunal ruling on the Philippines-China case can be viewed as a landmark judgment, which unfortunately cannot be enforced as UNCLOS works on the principle of global acceptability. He underlined and analyzed critical aspects that are germane to sovereignty, international laws and related aspects vis-à-vis the South China Sea.

Ms. Sana Hashmi, ex- consultant MEA said that over the years, China has strived to enhance its naval capabilities in the region, and a major objective behind this naval expansion is to reinforce its sovereignty claims on the South China Sea. The Chinese claims, based on arguably dubious historical precedents, are challenged by a number of countries in the region. So far, some of the claimants involved have maintained strong uncompromising positions. It has internal political dynamics involved in its international posturing. Dr. Udai Bhanu Singh from IDSA said major powers reacted to the South China Sea developments differently. As pointed out by a Chatham House study, while the leadership of Australia, India and Japan, respectively, do not have common views on China, they agree that China must be managed. Neither India, nor indeed Japan or Australia would like to see the relationship with China as a zero sum game. The U.S. takes no position on competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, and has not signed UNCLOS. But the US does encourage all countries to uphold international law, including the

Law of the Sea as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, and to respect unimpeded lawful commerce, freedom of navigation and over flight, and peaceful dispute resolution.

DrXuan Vinh Vo from Vietnam opined that ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 2012 failed to release the communique due to the disagreement over the South China Sea dispute. After the release of a separate statement on the current developments in the South China Sea in the wake of China’s illegal deployment of oil rig in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf in 2014, ASEAN’s cooperative spirit has continued to decrease. Although expressing the grouping’s position, phrases such as ‘some leaders’, and ‘some ministers’ have appeared in chairman’s statements and joint communiques in recently instead of ‘leaders’ or ‘ministers’ as it used to be. The process of COC negotiation process has heavily effected by Chinese approach, especially close economic relations between China and some ASEAN member states. It is difficult for ASEAN and China to reach a legally binding COC in 2021 as scheduled.

Presiding over the last session of the Conference Dr.Jyoti MPathania, Senior Fellow of Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) an Indian Army think tank, said that there is a need to look for possible solutions of this problem and the international community will have to undertake the task of bringing order in the region. General Shashi Asthana from United Service Institution (USI) said that while much has been said about Quad in strategic circles but SCS is the possible theater where the utility of this grouping can be explored. However, it has its limitations. It can be put to tests through group sail and joint exercises. Undertaking surveillance activities and enforcing order through military means should be an option. There are chances of flare up but then the Quad members will have to activate their international standing to force China to comply with international maritime order.

Rudroneel Ghosh, Assistant Editor, Times of India said the South China Sea (SCS) has been in media limelight in recent years due to China’s aggressive activities in the region. Beijing has been building artificial islands and militarizing some of them to bolster its claims over the entire SCS area. This, despite the fact that its so-called Nine-Dash Line cartographical claim was rejected in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case brought by the Philippines. He cautioned that there is also a tendency to view the SCS issue exclusively through the prism of China and a matter between China and Southeast Asian nations. And this can be counterproductive to sustaining international media attention on the SCS, which is necessary to evolve a consensus-based architecture in line with international law.

Dr.Sripathi Narayanan said the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) and Indo-Pacific region symbolises the shift in the global centre of gravity from the Euro-centric Atlantic order to the Asian landmass. The prevailing contestation is not only confined to hegemony and power politics but also scripting the discourse on the global order. While the MSR, as a subset of the BRI is a political articulation stemming out of infrastructure projects, the Indo-Pacific is a reverse, wherein the political posturing is yet to fructify in any visible form.

In his concluding remarks Dr. Pankaj Jha said China’s assertive postures and threatening tactics that it has adopted with India’s oil exploration initiatives and also Indian naval ships have been intimidated through radio messages in the past. Given the fact that South China Sea, Sunda, Lombok and Makassar straits are areas of secondary maritime interest from India but Chinese actions to demarcate the non-contentious area also as disputed zones would add to India’s problems. The Chinese dominance in South China Sea would trickle down in Indian Ocean also and therefore India will have to make tactical and strategic choices to constrain Chinese actions in the region.He said that there is a need for dialogue partners dialogue on the subject while keeping ASEAN in the loop. There is a need for elevating East Asia Summit for more proactive role in the region.

The rapporteurs to the conference presented the findings and the summary report of the presentations by Srimal Fernando

International Law

Fundamental legacy of The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials (1945-1948)

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These – rather unfortunate – days some voices in Europe are trying, in a quite a historical fashion, to question the very fundaments of the antifascist legacy. Dangerous and highly destructive equitation attempts are on the way. Still, this legacy is what finally made the Old continent human and peaceful – a role model to admire and for the rest of us to follow.

These regrettable equitations make it worth to revisit the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, which are essential pillars of the Human Rights charter brokered right after under the OUN auspices. Consequently, a very legacy of these trials is extraordinary and far reaching. It represents a core building material of the house called Modern Europe – something that the Director of International Institute IFIMES, Dr. Zijad Becirovic repeatedly stresses in his media appearances, as one of the bold but rather are voices of the right direction and historical responsibility awareness today.

Conclusively, the importance of tribunals is hard to overstate. Its reaffirmation today is needed like never since the very end of the WWII.

Noam Chomsky once said, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” This was not the case for Germany and Japan post-World War II. The victorious Allied powers established the first international criminal tribunals to prosecute political and military officials for war crimes and other atrocities committed during wartime. The four major Allied governments; the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, set up the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg trials) in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute and punish the major war criminals of the European Axis.

The tribunal presided over a combined trial of senior Nazi political and military leaders, as well as several Nazi organizations. The less-recognized International Military Tribunal for the Far East was created (Tokyo trials) in Tokyo, Japan, following the 1946 proclamation by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur. The tribunal presided over a series of trials of senior Japanese political and military leaders to prosecute and punish Far Eastern war criminals. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials differed in several important aspects including their origins, compositions, and jurisdictions.

The Allied powers established the policy that international tribunals in Europe and in the Far East after World War II would focus on, most importantly, a decision on individual criminal liability for crimes against peace. The Allied governments, and specifically the United States, sought after this policy as a solid step toward organizing an international legal system for discouraging future aggressors and averting the sort of war devastation that the Axis aggression had caused. This US-enlivened policy, first presented at Nuremberg, was repeated and pursued precisely at Tokyo. Luc Reydams and Jan Wouters argued that “The Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters were drafted by a handful of statesmen from the highest echelons of government for whom an international tribunal was not a goal unto itself, but a means to a very specific end.”[1] The Tokyo Charter, necessitated that the principal charges against the defendants be crimes against peace while deeming charges on war crimes and crimes against humanity as discretionary. Therefore, a great part of the court battles at Tokyo rotated around substantiating aggressive war charges, despite the fact that proof of Japanese wartime atrocities was, truth be told, likewise exhibited.

In June 1945, the day of the signing of the United Nations Charter at the San Francisco Conference, delegations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, negotiated in London on the regulating principles for prosecuting war criminals. It is noteworthy that the respective heads of these delegations; Robert Jackson, David Maxwell Fyfe, General I.T. Nikitchenko, and Robert Falco later served in notable roles at the International Military Tribunal. Meeting in Potsdam to discuss the future of Germany and Europe, Truman, Churchill, and Stalin affirmed the London talks.

In August 1945, the four major Allied governments signed the 1945 London Agreement, which established the International Military Tribunal. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal was adjoined to the London Agreement and defined the tribunal’s constitution, functions, and jurisdiction[2]. One judge from each of the Allied governments formed the Nuremberg tribunal, the Allied powers also supplied a team of prosecutors. The Nuremberg Charter also provided that the International Military Tribunal had the authority to prosecute and punish persons who committed any of the following crimes: Crimes Against Peace (planning and making war), War Crimes (responsibility for crimes during war), Crimes Against Humanity (racial persecution), and Conspiracy to Commit other Crimes.

The tribunal held its opening session in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, and the trials lasted from November 1945 to October 1946. Twenty-two Nazi political and military leaders were indicted, including Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, and Albert Speer. The tribunal found nineteen individual defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments that ranged from death by hanging to fifteen years of imprisonment. Three defendants were found that they are not guilty, one committed suicide before the trial, and one did not stand trial due to physical or mental illness.

Unlike the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was not created by an international agreement, but it nonetheless emerged from international agreements to prosecute Japanese war criminals.[3] In July 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and China signed the Potsdam Declaration, in which they stated that “We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.[4]” and urged the Japanese government to, “proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action.[5]” The war in Europe had ended but the war with Japan was continuing at the time the Potsdam Declaration was signed. Nonetheless, the Potsdam Declaration was not signed by the Soviet Union because it did not declare war on Japan until the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki.[6]

Japan surrendered on the 14th of August 1945, six days later. Officials of the US State Department leaned toward holding an intergovernmental conference to establish special international tribunals, but the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee came up with the plan to use the power of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur,  mindful of the experience with the London Conference where Justice Robert Jackson had enormous difficulty coming to an agreement with other delegations on the Nuremberg Charter.

At the following Moscow Conference, held in December 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union with affirmation from China agreed to a basic structure to occupy Japan. General MacArthur was granted authority to “issue all orders for the implementation of the Terms of Surrender, the occupation and control of Japan, and all directives supplementary thereto.[7]

In January 1946, General Douglas MacArthur issued a special proclamation to establish the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The Charter for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was adjoined to the proclamation. Similar to the Nuremberg Charter, it outlined the composition, functions, and jurisdiction of the tribunal. The Charter provided for General Douglas MacArthur to assign judges to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East from the countries that had signed Japan’s instrument of surrender: Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as British India and the Philippines. Each of these countries also had a team of prosecutors. As with the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East had jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity[8]. However, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East had jurisdiction over crimes that occurred over a greater period of time, from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to Japan’s surrender in 1945.

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East oversaw the prosecution of twenty-five Japanese political and military leaders. The Emperor of Japan Hirohito and other members of the imperial family were not indicted. In fact, the Allied governments allowed Emperor Hirohito to retain his position on the throne, albeit with diminished status. The trials took place from May 1946 to November 1948. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East found all defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments ranging from death to seven years’ imprisonment.

The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials contributed significantly to the development of international criminal law and served as models for a new series of international criminal tribunals[9] that were established in the 1990s. Moreover, the reference to “crimes against peace,” “war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity” in the International Military Tribunal Charter represented the first time these terms were used and defined in an international instrument. These terms and definitions were also adopted in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and have been depicted and expanded in a succession of international legal instruments since that time. The conclusions of the Nuremberg trials also served as models for the Genocide Convention 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and paved the way for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

In conclusion, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials legacy itself is extraordinary, and its importance is hard to overstate. Nuremberg and the international community’s experience with the ad hoc tribunals demonstrate that international justice doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Holding up Nuremberg to an impossible, imagined standard is neither fair nor productive.

We cannot forget that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and, fifty years later, the establishment of the International Criminal Court aimed to safeguard peace in all regions of the world. The achievements of these great trials in elevating justice and law over inhumanity and war give promise for a better tomorrow by paving the way to deal with international crimes. Furthermore, the international system has made huge contributions to the birth and development of modern international law.


[1]Reydams, L., Wouters, J., &Ryngaert, C. (2012). The Politics of Establishing International Criminal Tribunals. International Prosecutors, 6–80.

[2] Bard, M. G. (2002). The Nuremberg trials. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

[3]Piccigallo, P. R. (2011). The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[4]Carnegie Endowment for international peace. (n.d.). The Potsdam declaration: August 2, 1945. New York.

[5]See as in reference 2.

[6]See as in reference 1.

[7]Taulbee, J. L. (2018). War Crimes and Trials: A Primary Source Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

[8] United Nations, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Charter).

[9] The former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994.

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International Law

When Life Imitates Art

Arlene J. Schar

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Authors: Arlene J. Schar and Dr. David Leffler*

The movie Wag the Dog was released a generation ago, one month before a presidential scandal which invited comparisons between that film and the reality of that time. Now, 23 years later, we find ourselves in the midst of yet another presidential scandal; one which has made this movie once again relevant to our times.

The premise, which hits uncomfortably close to home, is about a war fabricated to deflect attention from a president’s indiscretions. War is described as “show business” with all the trappings: slogans, nicknames, theme songs, and even merchandizing to show solidarity; all orchestrated by a media intent on projecting a party’s “alternate reality” on an unsuspecting public.

However war, whether fabricated or not, is serious business and there are casualties. Iran has recently admitted to unintentionally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error and “US adventurism” for the crash. Human error can happen, and can be especially heightened during times of war. 176 lives were lost from this particular error; how much greater would have been the loss of life if this were on a nuclear scale.

The 2014 Danish documentaryThe Man Who Saved the World tells the story of Stanislav Petrov, a former lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces and his role in preventing the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident from leading to nuclear holocaust. Thankfully in this case human error was successfully averted. 

Human error is something that will always be present; and so we have to ask ourselves: is it worth it, to life and to our planet, to entrust such terrible war-making forces to fallible humans? The obvious answer is no, and yet we do. What can we do to change our ways, to guarantee our safety in an uncertain world?

In an ideal world, there would be no enemies, hence no war: war would be prevented by militaries before it occurs – Victory before War. There is a little known scientifically proven way to accomplish this, by using a brain-based technology known as Invincible Defense Technology (IDT). IDT incorporates non-religious advanced techniques of Transcendental Meditation (TM) which, when practiced twice a day in large groups, has the effect of raising the consciousness of all those within its field. 

Extensive peer-reviewed scientific research has repeatedly confirmed that when large groups of experts practice these advanced techniques together, a powerful field effect is generated which affects the surrounding population. This results in measurable decreases in war deaths, terrorism, and crime whenever IDT is utilized.

IDT was previously utilized in Washington D.C. over a two-month period in the summer of 1993, where 4000 meditators gathered for an experiment to lower crime. The result, as documented by an independent board of criminologists, was a 24 percent reduction in criminal violence. This profound reduction in social stress also influenced the public approval of the US president, which suddenly changed from a negative trend to a positive trend, as predicted (Reference: Social Indicators Research, 1999, 47: 153-201).

A study published in May 2019 in Studies in Asian Social Science6(2), 1-45, found that IDT implementation by students trained in the advanced TM techniques resulted in a 96% decline in sociopolitical violence in war-torn Cambodia as compared to violence in the preceding three years.

The Global Union of Scientists for Peace (GUSP) advocates IDT as a cost-effective, simple means to rapidly reduce the societal stresses held to be the underlying cause of terrorism and war.

Military and civilian groups in South America, Africa, and parts of Asia are currently field-testing this approach by creating Prevention Wings of the Military, using IDT to reduce crime, quell violence, create prosperity, prevent the rise of enemies, and create the conditions for lasting peace. 

No nation can afford another war, and no country can feel safe as long as nuclear weapons are available to be deployed, whether intentionally or by human error. It is time for all of us to consider embarking on a new course of action, utilizing IDT to raise the global consciousness so that positive solutions can be found which do not involve war.

Because our next war may well be our last.

*Dr. David Leffler served as an Associate of the Proteus Management Group at the Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. Currently, he serves as the Executive Director at CAMS.

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International Law

Applicability of international law for justice: Remarks on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752

Punsara Amarasinghe

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Esshan Jayawardane*

The pandemonium erupted following Soleimani’s death seems to have encircled the embattled regime in Iran after admitting that Ukrainian flight was shot down by their force with 176 people on board. The protestors who chanted death to America at Soleimani’s funeral changed their tune when they realized the government they reverently supporting has lied to them about the cause of the air crash as a technical failure. A week after the tragedy Teheran has openly claimed that air crash was a result of human failure as a missile operator misidentified it as a cruise missile after Iran launched missiles to the US airbases in Iraq. In the meantime, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s persistent remarks on demanding justice for the victims has caused an uproar amid the tension. Indeed, 74 victims on board happened to be Canadians albeit they were either ethic Iranians or with Iranian origin. This situation raises some concern whether Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the UK seek some judicial remedy under international law for Iran’s act of shooting down an aircraft which carried its citizens. This situation is a sheer reminder of what exactly happened in 1988 when Iranian flight was shot down by the US Vincennes, a missile cruiser of the US navy in the Persian Gulf. In the situation in 1988, Iran filed a case against the US in International Court of Justice and within the time limit fixed for the filing of its counter memorial, the USA raised preliminary objections to the jurisdictions of the court. However, both parties later entered into an agreement in a full and final settlement resulting in the closure of the case in the ICJ.

From a vantage point, the ability for Canada or other affected states to apply international law to seek justice should be mainly understood by examining the current international law measurements covering the civil aircraft. The Convention on International Civil Aviation16 (Chicago Convention) is the core document regulating international civil aviation. Its governing body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible, amongst other duties, for minimum standards of flight safety. Iran has signed and ratified the convention, hence remained legally obliged to uphold it. It’s Article 3 has explicitly stated “The contracting states must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft and in that case of interception, the lives of persons on board and safety of aircraft must not be endangered. Secondly, the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of unlawful Acts against the safety of Civil Aviation remains the other necessary black letter legal mechanism available in international law.

Also, the UN charter being the zenith of international law has framed certain conditions regarding the use of force. In particular, its Article 2 (4) requires all member states shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” It is assumed that the use of force against a foreign civil aircraft, even within the boundaries of a nation state triggers international law in that it constitutes a “use of force” within the meaning of the above rule. In the case of the Iranian shot down of the Ukrainian flight, the issue of “Self-defense “arises as it occurred amid an escalating situation followed by Solemani’s assassination by the US Drones and Iranians military response to it. If Canada triggers international law to seek justice for its lost citizens, Iran is likely to rely on the Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which verifies member states inherent rights for the self-defense. However, it is important to consider that yardstick behind the applicability of “Self Defense “is rather subtle.  Especially, the justification of applying “self-defense “has been generally referred to the situation of “imminent threat “.  Even before the creation of Article 51 in the UN Charter, the scope of imminent threat was discussed as a complex issue in the early development in the 19th century international law. As an example in the Famous Caroline test affair between the USA and Great Britain, American statesman Daniel Webster described the imminent threat as “instant, overwhelming and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation”. Given the scenario that flight was shot down just hours after Iran attacked two US bases in Iraq, the salient contention that one can raise is that Iranian missile operator’s deadly mistake of misidentifying the Ukrainian plane as an American missile ended up in a calamity. Nevertheless, there was no clear claim to build an imminent threat from a civil aircraft. Yet, the claim made by Teheran has affirmed shooting down of the flight was a result of human error or otherwise a mistake. The availability of remedial solutions for mistakes in international law are tiny and depends on the specific circumstances.  In this particular situation liability of Iran appears to be more severe than the claim it yields by justifying the act as a result of a grave mistake. The initial Iranian attempt to obstruct the investigation in the aftermath of the air crash and its deceptive act of portraying the air crash as a result of a technical error intensifies the culpability. More importantly plane would have never met its ill fate if Iranian authorities closed down its air space on that day knowing well that hostilities with the US can easily escalate following their missile strikes. This situation upsets Iranian claim of a sincere mistake caused the tragedy as the given factors aptly show even if the mistake was an honest one, the acts Iranian state which paves the path to the catastrophic event were not reasonable. 

All in all, the most less troublesome answer that can help Iran before any possible international law claim by Canada, Ukraine, Sweden or Great Britain is to admit the liability as a state and frame the reparations for those lost lives of individuals. The act of conducting a fair investigation, providing reparation and more importantly the unconditional apology as a state can avert Iran from further diplomatic isolation as a pariah state. 

*Eshan Jayawardane is an independent researcher resides is Napiers, New Zealand. He completed his BA in Delhi University and completed his MA in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. He can be reached at eshan.jayawardena[at]gmail.com.

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