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
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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