Journalists and media actors perform a crucial role in modern societies, reporting news and disseminating and sharing information with the people that exposes the misdeeds of state agencies, bodies and make state institutions accountable and transparent. They contribute by creating more fair, peaceful, and inclusive societies. The press freedom and free media is the new independent organ of a democratic political set-up what I call ‘constitutional state’ beyond the conventional three-fold separation of power doctrine propounded by the Baron de Montesquieu in his work “The Spirit of the Laws” (1748) which states that “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body of magistrates … [or] if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers(sic).” Therefore, global press freedom and free media is an inalienable part of transformative constitutionalism that survives on the right of democracy to have the diversity of opinion, the right to independent journalism, and the right to think like a journalist within the constitutional mandate. However, around the world, journalists are confronting unprecedented fear and violence in their pursuit of truth and fairness, while media freedom has been gasping for liberal space.
The worldwide killing of journalists in 2019 has recorded a noteworthy downswing; however, the global press freedom crisis got aggravated to the new heights owing to the governments preferring to punish independent journalists everywhere. State-patronized-led (SLP) violence against media and journalists in the form of stigmatic campaigns, subjective news hounding, and legal persecution has been guzzling global press freedom. SLP violence has divested the freedom of the press of its core elements such as impartiality, independence, fairness, nonconformity, and self-determination. The International Press Institute (IPI) has recorded the coverage of global press freedom in 2019 that shows an incremental trend in SLP violence such as state enacting new draconian laws, state abusing the existing laws to curb media freedom, state threatening the independent journalists for harassment and incarceration and state creating new pliant and docile media indulging in peddling state-designed rhetoric and populist perception across the world.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Triofni opined that “2019 has witnessed a clear downswing in the number of journalists eliminated to the lowest level in 20 years, even as impunity remains a major challenge. We certainly welcome this development. However, we fear it may be a direct consequence of increased authoritarian tendencies in many countries, where alternative means of silencing the press, such as twisting the law to harass and jail critical journalists while smearing independent media, have been adopted to shield political leaders from scrutiny and criticism.”Further, 2019 has witnessed police raids and arrests of media persons and journalists worldwide while undermining the international media law.The 2019 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) categorized the media climate in more than three-fourths of the 180 nation-states and territories researched as “problematic,” “difficult” or “very serious” and only 8% have a media climate regarded “good” (sic).
Suppression of Free Media Worldwide
An IPI Executive Board member, along with the founder of the online news outlet Rappler Maria Ressa was arrested twice in 2019 on cyber libel and other charges in February and March, respectively. The government of the Philippines has filed several cases against Maria and her media outlet Rappler due to its criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte and his ministerial colleagues. In Egypt, the government intensified its intimidation exercises like swooping news organizations, vandalizing free media houses, and arresting independent scribes. In November 2019, Egyptian security agencies raided the offices of the most important online news platform in Egypt known as Mada Masr that has been conferred upon with IPI-International Media Support (IMS) award for its courageous, responsible and investigative journalism. In total, more than 60 journalists have been rotting in Egyptian jails in extremely inhospitable conditions. Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has been in detention for more than three years, and Ismail Alexandrani has served almost four years in prison.
In Turkey, about 115 journalists have been imprisoned for long as reported by the IPI-International Press Freedom Mission that recorded “no improvement” in press freedom in Turkey and pointed out the political subjugation of Turkish judiciary failing in protecting the rights of journalists. New waves of repressive measures such as re-arresting of released journalists who castigated the Turkish military invasion of Syria. In Australia, a police raid on the homes of journalists working with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was conducted due to ABC’s reporting of unlawful killings of Afghans by the Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2017 that attracted international criticism and accentuated the inadequate safety measures for the free press in Australia.
In South Asia, with authoritarian state propaganda, disinformation, undeclared censorship, cyber-harassment, intimidation, and physical violence is the new normal. South Asiahas theworst record on the free press as reported by the Reporters Without Borders(RSF),and it is a region that is infested with all the problems that have overwhelmed press and independent journalism. The WPFI collected by RSF establishes that hatred to journalists has degenerated into violence and accelerating the threshold of fear and torture. The number of safe countries for journalists has been declining as SLP violence continues to strangulate the free media. As per WPFI rankings, the number of murdered journalists was extremely high in Afghanistan (121st), India (142nd), Maldives (98th),Pakistan(152nd),and Sri Lanka (156th).Consequently, the maneuvering of social networks in Myanmar that pandered to anti-Rohingya hate messages and imposition of the 7-year jail imprisonment of two Reuter’s journalists who tried to investigate the Rohingya genocide was a new normal.
There are many other dimensions to the suppression of free media like the Internet that is frequently subjected to shut-down and deliberate slowdown. In today’s world of technology, the Internet controls the free flow of information, freedom of the press, and free speech. In South Asia, the highest number of Internet shutdowns globally has been recorded, and India has earned the dubious distinction for the same. The Internet shutdowns are “any intentional disruption of the broadband or mobile Internet or Internet-based mobile apps, by an order of the authorities or threat of non-state party, to control communication or online content or slowing down the access to the general public (sic).” In many cases, the government gives the justification for the Internet shutdown is to “maintain law and order.”However, the majority of the shutdowns are either pre-emptive or reactive measures in the wake of mass or potential violent public protests.
Globally, national governments have been promulgating new laws in Nigeria, Cambodia, and Singapore on the pretext of national security, public order, and national integrity. The increasing influence of China is responsible for censorship in Singapore that ranked 151stand Cambodia143rd. In Poland, leading online media outlet, Gazeta Wyborcza has been beleaguered with libel cases filed by the Polish government officials while Bulgaria launched a criminal investigation against Bulgarian journalist Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov for their investigative journalism. In Africa, more than 20 journalists’detention in Uganda on 04 November 2019 and in Tanzania, a freelance journalist Erick Kabendera who was conferred with David Astor Award in 2009,has been arrested initially to investigate his citizenship credentials but subsequently, he has been booked under money laundering charges. In such a hostile atmosphere, the political ecosystem can fundamentally and adversely transform the environment for independent journalists and free press.
Delegitimization of Free Press Personnel
Primarily, authoritarian regimes are the first category of institutional structures that denigrates press freedom for their ulterior objectives, which cannot be achieved by constitutionally-driven channels. These state structures are manned by the politicians who have radically transformed the free social media to denigrate and hound free media platforms and bully independent journalists for their critical journalism. US President Donald Trump denigrating press freedom continuously and attributing journalists as enemies of the people and many like-minded politicians across the world are also following him. The framework of press freedom in the US has been tattered and debilitated by the political pillory of independent scribes in 2019. Media freedom has been confronting the criminalization of journalists covering protests, escalation in harassment, and denial of access to government-held information.
In Pakistan, editor of an English newspaper Dawn was threatened with death by the politicians associated with the incumbent government on social media due to his publishing a report on London stabbing attacks on 29 November 2019.In Brazil, Glenn Greenwald—co-founder of an online news outlet, The Intercept—faced a smear campaign of threats of violence, prosecution and deportation emanating from patronized politicians and blue-eyed boys of President Jair Bolsonaro after he published damaging revelations about the unethical behaviour and transgressions of power exercised by a former judge Sérgio Moro and now justice minister. In Hungary, since 2010, the government has been tempering systematically with media freedom and pluralism by twisting the media market and alienating journalistic community to achieve the maximum degree of media control unprecedented in an EU member state as highlighted in a report compiled by the IPI-led joint Press Freedom Mission in November 2019. The report has underscored a systematic delegitimization of free press personnel by calling them as political activists, foreign agents, and traitors.
Downswings in Violence against Press Personnel
The persecution of free press on legal grounds increased in 2019, but there is a significant decline in the killings of a journalist if compared to preceding years. Forty-seven journalists have been killed in 2019 as compared to 82 and 79 killings of journalists in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Out of 47 deaths in 2019, there were 30 targeted killings due to investigative journalism regarding crimes and corruption involving criminal syndicates. However, as many as 19 journalists were victims of targeted killings in the Americas consisting of 9 alone from Mexico. In Africa, one journalist got killed in 2019, and in Asia, 6 journalists were killed in targeted attacks. Reduction in violence and murder of journalists is a positive development but impunity and culpability for past killings of journalists remain pandemic and a multiplying challenge.
Mexico turned out to be an extremely hostile country for the journalists and flopped in its responsibility to bring a single culprit to justice out of more than 100 murders of journalists since 2006, as highlighted in a report compiled and released by an international mission on 06 November 2019.This international mission was carried out by the representatives of 17 international press freedom organizations in response to Mexico’s crisis of journalist safety and impunity. However, Europe was the only region that has recorded a few positive developments in stopping impunity. In Slovakia, the murder of an investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová hogged the global limelight in 2018 and prosecutors in October 2019 initiated the charges against the accused Marian Kocner and three of his accomplices. In November 2019, the government of Malta charged a local business tycoon and high ranking officials of the Maltese government with the murder of an investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galiziawho exposed the Panama papers’ corruption.
The Constitutional Court of Turkey (CCT) has adjudicated and ruled on the libel suit instituted by Ex-Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Melih Gökçek against journalist Hayko Bağdat and held that the penalization of journalist violated his right to freedom of expression protected under Article 26 of the Constitution of Turkey. The CCT opined that “it should not be forgotten that not only the protection of the essence of thought and knowledge but also the way of presenting the thought and knowledge are important in freedom of expression. Even though they are disturbing, the penalization of criticisms against politicians can serve as a deterrent factor and cause the different voices in public to be silenced out of fear of being penalized. It is an obstacle to the sustainability of a pluralist society (sic).”Thus, the methods used by many national governments around the world deviate from the core elements of the global rule of law and equality governance.
The Ecosystem of Sustainable Media Pluralism
The global press has been gasping for nonconformity and sustainable media pluralism worldwide. Free press and independent journalism are an inalienable element of the democratic framework of good governance. Omnipresent erosion of nonconformity and ubiquitous anti-media rhetoric are a deathblow to the ecosystem of sustainable media pluralism. The right to information of ordinary people emanates from the diversity of information; otherwise, it would be at the guillotine; however, in recent years, it has greatly empowered the journalists everywhere. It is important to address deliberate distortions in the name of the competition in the media market by expanding the gamut of fiscal support to independent investigative journalism. Sustainable democracy cannot be imagined without sustainable media freedom that requires a free media environment across the world. The concentration of media ownership has been perpetrated by the governments contrary to fair market competition that has badly affected the free press and media pluralism. National governments must review the availability and exploitation of state-owned resources and stop the practice of settling the multi-dimensional score with the independent media houses and rewarding pro-establishment media outlets.
It is expected that national governments ensure international norms of accountability, independence, and transparency while dealing with public broadcasting services. The administrative harassment and marginalization of the free press and independent media by the regulatory bodies of the state must be stopped. The protection of the independence of journalism, the safety of journalists, and other freelance media actors from discrimination in accessing the information and press meets. The inviolability of journalistic credentials and the ability of journalists to function and perform their role as an ombudsman in the reporting of Parliamentary working must be respected and appreciated. Any attack on independent journalists—online or offline—must be properly probed. Political intervention and influence in the media market have undermined the global free press that has exacerbated the ecosystem of sustainable media pluralism worldwide. The global community must profoundly cogitate upon the unprecedented sordid state of media freedom situation around the world and respond appropriately by taking measures in line with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter.
Where from here?
It is incumbent upon the national governments to emplace a robust normative framework on the safety of journalists. There are as many as twelve Resolutions and Decisions on the Safety of journalists adopted by the United Nations bodies such as the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, and UNESCO since 2012. The safety of journalists under SDG 16.10.1 has been established as a measure to be accomplished as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, particularly public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms. In 2013, UN General Assembly declared November 02 as “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists,” and UNESCO has been leading all commemorations that have enhanced the understanding of the safety of journalists and impunity challenges. For achieving global free press and sustainable media pluralism, the challenges of media market distortions, discrimination in access to information, opaque implementation of media regulations, authoritarian public media broadcasting and de-legitimization of journalists must be addressed by revisiting the role of international media law.
Omicron and Vaccine Nationalism: How Rich Countries Have Contributed to Pandemic’s Longevity
In a global pandemic, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe”, – it is more of true with respect to the current globalized world system. It is said that crisis strikes the conscience and forces the ‘commonality of purpose’ on one another- and a major one in magnanimous scale. But the current Covid-19 crisis seems to have emerged in oddity with this very axiom, of course, due to self-serving, in WHO’s words- ‘self-defeating’ and ‘immoral’, approaches to dealing the pandemic by wealthy countries.
A new and potentially more transmissible variant of Covid-19 virus, named Omicron by WHO, has been detected in South Africa. With scientists yet to be confirmed about new variant’s epicenter and its likely implication on human immune system, the emergence of Omicron has brought the long-warned case of ‘vaccine nationalism’– a phenomenon in which each nation prioritizes securing ample doses without considering impact on poor ones- to light.
Unheeded to the repeated warnings by scientists and pandemic specialists, many of the world’s richest countries had embarked on a vaccine-acquisition frenzy and hoarded jabs more than their requirements. Some countries have even gone to the extent that they had acquired up to four times what their population needed. Thereby, it has left majority of poor and developing countries, particularly those in global south, unvaccinated, with further risk of the virus being muted into more virulent variants, as in the case of Omicron.
A simple numerical data over vaccination rate across the world exposes the grotesques picture of pandemic recovery divide among the countries and immoral hoarding and hedging efforts on vaccine supplies by wealthy countries. As of now, whereas only 3% of people in low income countries have fully been vaccinated, the figure exceeds 60% in both high-income and upper-middle –income countries. In Africa, the most under-vaccinated and the epicenter of ominous Omicron, only some 7% of its 1.3 billion people are fully immunized.
Given the 9.1bn vaccines already manufactured and 12bn expected by the end of this year, the question is- why does vaccination effort remain so discriminatory and dividing across the regions? The answer, in most part, lies in the ‘pervasive economic inequity’ inherent in initial vaccine-acquisition process. With their enormous capacity to pay out, rich countries, even before pandemic took devastating hold, had pursued a ‘portfolio-approach’ in investing on vaccine development research by pharmaceutical companies- simultaneous investment on multiple ones. In exchange, those countries stroke bilateral deal with each drag company to secure enough prospective vaccine doses to inoculate their respective population several times over.
This absolutist vaccine-acquisition drive of wealthy nations had substantially thwarted the holistic approach taken up by World Health Organization(WHO) under the platform of COVAX, a vaccine sharing program. With the aim of reducing the delay in vaccine allocation to poor and developing countries, and thus ensuring vaccine equity, the multilateral platform didn’t get enough incentives from wealthy ones, since started its journey in April 2020. Both investment and acquisition by well-off countries, having bypassed the COVAX, kept them into the front of manufacturing line, thereby, contributed to the distributional injustice.
‘What starts wrong ends wrong’- initial absolutist approaches in vaccine acquisition started to be manifested in discriminatory distribution of vaccines. Thereby, an amazing scientific breakthrough, development of vaccine in record time, has been offset by awful political policy. In mid-2021, when one portion of world were almost on the track of carefree normalcy, people in bigger portion were struggling to breath. Today, problem is not in production of vaccines, as 2 billion doses of vaccines are being manufactured in every month, rather in the ‘unfairness of distribution’.
Early monopolistic exercise by G20 on acquisition and subsequent stockpile of vaccines has resulted in such galling situation that they have commandeered over 89% of vaccines already produced and over 71% of future deliveries. Consequently, the global inoculation drive, since started, is so unjust that for every vaccine delivered to the poorest countries, six times as many doses are being administered as third and booster vaccines in the richest countries. Adding further to the crisis being escalated, while more than 100 countries, for past one year, have desperately demanded emergency waiver on TRIPs related regulatory restriction on Technologies crucial to pandemic recovery, it has repeatedly been blocked by UK and EU.
Picture is not all-about gloomy with respect to vaccine collaboration but it is quite tiny to the scale of requirements. Rich countries could not deliver on the commitments they did to help poor countries immunize their population. For instance, WHO’s target of having 40% of global population vaccinated by end of this year, through COVAX, seems certainly to fall short largely due to the rich countries failing to deliver on their promise to use their surplus vaccines to immunize the under-vaccinated countries. Far from near, the G7 countries had drastically failed to deliver on their promises made on G7 summit in June. As of last week, USA has delivered only 25%, with further embarrassing arithmetic of EU only 19%, UK 11% and Canada just 5%.
Given the frightening predictions from WHO that another 5 million could be added to the already 5 million death tolls across the world, in the next year or more, it is high time starting a collective endeavor with herculean efforts to inoculate large swaths of unvaccinated people in un-protected areas. Keeping large portion out of vaccination will only make the pandemic endure with no time to end, as virus continues to persist through mutating in un-protected area into a more menacing variant. If so, then again someone else may say, after next the worst wave- “We were forewarned- and yet here we are”.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW): Wishful daydream or historic milestone?
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017, has entered into force on the 22nd of January of this year and the number of ratifying states continues to grow, with Mongolia being the latest to announce its accession. This positive trend is certainly welcomed with enthusiasm by the Civil Society campaigners and growing number of supporters of this treaty that represents a huge step forward for the global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It would certainly be dishonest to ignore the fact that this new international legal instrument remains controversial, to say the least, for most of the members of the so-called nuclear deterrence community. As preparations are ongoing for the first Meeting of States Parties, scheduled to take place in Vienna on 22-24 March 2022, it is useful to address some of the main doubts and arguments against the treaty.
In this regard, the main criticism is that it makes no sense to support a treaty on nuclear weapons if those states that possess them have not joined nor any intention to join it.
In order to address this claim, it may be useful to recall that in the case of the Mine Ban and the Cluster Munition treaties, its main promoters and supporters were also states that did not possess those weapons, and that those international instruments also received some harsh criticism for this reason. Despite of this, there is no doubt now that both of those treaties have become remarkable success stories, not only by achieving the goal of approaching universalization, but also by consolidating a general moral condemnation of those categories of weapons. Therefore, the argument that a treaty necessarily needs to be joined by the possessors of the weapons can easily be rebutted. Despite of the current position of the nuclear weapons states, each new ratification of the treaty is not meaningless: on the contrary, it provides the treaty more authority and contributes to the growing pressure on nuclear weapons states to adopt further steps towards nuclear disarmament.
The other major contribution of the TPNW is that it facilitates the process of delegitimisation of nuclear weapons, necessary to finally amend the well-established foundations of nuclear deterrence doctrines. The humanitarian principles that are underlying the treaty are totally incompatible with those doctrines, and therefore are having an impact on them by highlighting the inherent immorality and illegitimacy of nuclear weapons.
Another argument for the case of ratification is that it provides states the opportunity to support the process of democratization of the global debate on nuclear weapons, as this new treaty has been the result of a very open discussion with active engagement of delegations from all geographic regions and, in particular, of representatives of Civil Society. This is not a minor aspect of this process, but a key element. Indeed, unlike in negotiations of previous international legal instruments, in this era of growing complexity and interlinkages, the main challenges faced by humankind are being addressed by a diverse group of citizens, from all walks of life and regions. Traditional diplomacy is certainly not enough, and in the case of the TPNW, the positive results would clearly not have been possible without the decisive boost provided by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was able to mobilize Civil Society and likeminded governments towards the goal of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
While it would be naïve to expect the establishment of the nuclear weapons states to be convinced by the humanitarian narrative and in a foreseeable future to amend its defence and security policies base on nuclear deterrence, the TPNW and its focus on the security of the human being instead of the traditional notion of the security of the state, are already having an impact on the academic and public debates in those states.
The second argument used by its critics is that the TPNW weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Actually, this is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. In fact, the TPNW can serve as an initiative to help implement article VI of the NPT, by which parties are committed to undertake to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. This is of vital importance as the treaty clearly attaches a key role to all parties, and not only to those states that possess nuclear weapons. This commitment has also been reflected in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the TPNW can be understood as a reflection of that obligation to contribute to nuclear disarmament by non-nuclear weapons states.
Another common point is that the nuclear weapons industry is too strong and well consolidated and that it would be naïve to pretend that this treaty could actually have an impact on investment decisions.
This pessimism has also been proven wrong. In fact, in 2021, more than one hundred financial institutions are reported to have decided to stop investing in companies related to nuclear weapons production. As a result, the nuclear weapons industry is experiencing a considerable reduction and the trend towards the exclusion of this sector from investment targets is growing steadily. This is not only the consequence from the legal obligations that emanate from the TPNW but a reflection of the devaluation of the public image associated to these industries. As this public image continues to deteriorate, it is likely that this trend will continue and that the moral condemnation of these weapons of mass destruction will be absorbed into the mainstream of society.
Another common misinterpretation is that the TPNW should be understood as an instrument that is only designed to be joined exclusively by non-nuclear weapons states.
In fact, even though the treaty was developed by non-nuclear weapons states, it has been drafted and negotiated with the goal of universal adherence, including, someday, those states that still include nuclear deterrence in their national security doctrines. In particular, the TPNW establishes a clear set of steps for nuclear weapons states in order to eliminate their arsenals of nuclear weapons. Specifically, within 60 days after the entry into force of the treaty for a state party that possesses nuclear weapons, that state must submit a plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons to a competent international authority that has been specially designated by states parties. The treaty also includes a process to designate a competent international authority to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons by a state before acceding to the treaty, and a process for states parties that maintain nuclear weapons in their territories for the removal of these weapons and report this action to the United Nations Secretary General.
It is also noteworthy that this treaty obliges states parties to provide adequate assistance to victims affected by the use or by testing of nuclear weapons, and to take the necessary measures for environmental rehabilitation in areas contaminated under its control. This dimension of the treaty constitutes an important contribution both to the protection of human rights of victims and to the now inescapable obligation to protect the environment, which are aspects that are not covered by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This certainly does not affect the value and vital role of this key instrument of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime but complements it by addressing the fundamental issue of environmental reparation.
The main challenge now is now not only to achieve a wider universality of the TPNW, but to engage more stakeholders and create awareness on the urgency of bringing pressure on the nuclear weapons states to finally move toward nuclear disarmament. In this regard, Civil Society initiatives have been promoting engagement of members of grassroots, parliament, the media and city governments, particularly in nuclear weapons states, which has had impressive results, with hundreds of local governments expressing support for the treaty and generating discussion among the population. These initiatives serve the purpose of putting pressure on politicians and especially, to facilitate a discussion within democratic societies about the sustainability and risks involved in the possession and harboring of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the TPNW has a long way to go and overcome many obstacles to achieve its objective, but in its first year of entry into force, it has already had an undeniable impact on the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, despite the expected skeptics and efforts to ignore its existence stemming from the still powerful nuclear deterrence establishment. Most of its technical experts, academics and government officials honestly believe that nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee peace and stability to the world and therefore should continue as the foundation of international security doctrines. These well-established ideas have been based on the questionable assumption that the deployment of these weapons have avoided war and can guarantee permanent peace for all nations. This has served as a sort of dogmatic idea for many decades, but recent research results have shown that the risks involved are significantly higher and that the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic for every citizen of the planet. The humanitarian impact paradigm, which underlies the process that has inspired the TPNW, has provoked a tectonic shift in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, which had been limited to the NPT review conferences with its often-frustrating results. Certainly, the persistence of the different approaches needs to be addressed in a more constructive discussion among the supporters of this treaty and the deterrence community.
Finally, the fact that the first meeting of states parties of the TPNW will take place in Vienna is very meaningful as Austria has been one of the leading nations in this process, particularly in drafting the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which has been a decisive step towards the treaty that has already fulfilled that commitment. Despite of all the difficulties and the persistence of significant resistance, the active and committed participation of diplomats and Civil Society representatives, under the leadership of Austria, allow to envisage that this first meeting will help to strengthen the treaty and move forward in the long and burdensome road to the final objective of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
Regional Mechanisms of Human Rights: The Way Forward: Case of South Asia
Long debates have evolved since the 1948 UDHR as to whether human rights should always be perceived as universal, or whether they need to be regarded as contextual on regional and local cultures. If we look at Art. 2 of the UDHR the rights apply “with no distinction given to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Still in spite of this, the universality has been criticized by some, who argue that by claiming human rights are universal, we ignore and undermine the cultural differences that exist between societies in different parts of the world
Historically, the first written evidence of human rights was found in the famous universal declaration in 1215 A.D., popularly known as the ‘Magna Carta’. Along with the same, there were many thinkers like Hobbes, Locke Rousseau, Milton, and Voltaire who argued in favour of individual rights and with passage of time and the conclusion of two world wars, the United Nations Organisation came into being on 24th October 1945 that replaced the League of Nations.
Further, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1948 and is considered a milestone in the field of human rights whose primary aim is to protect and promote human rights. In contrast to the said aim, the critics of the UDHR label it as a Western-biased document that fails to account for the cultural norms and values which exist in the rest of the world. It is only with regard to a group of certain core rights like that are listed in the human rights treaties as ‘non-derogable rights’ or considered jus cogens such as the prohibition of the use of force, the law of genocide, the principle of racial non- discrimination, crimes against humanity, and the rules prohibiting trade in slaves and piracy that consensus among nations exist.
The core of the issue is that a group of nations are seeking to redefine the content of the term “human rights” according to their own social and cultural experiences as they argue that the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration reflect Western values and not their own. These countries sign many international human rights treaties and conventions, but the use of reservations and internal obstacles
jeopardize their implementation. Such claims of social and cultural differences in the past have been dismissed by the western countries and the USA who dismissed such claims as being a screen behind which authoritarian governments can perpetuate abuses.
Coming to South Asian Nations, there does exist violations of human rights in India as there is an absence of any regional framework that can hold the government responsible for the acts committed or provide a forum to individuals to appeal against the decisions of the Courts like the one existing under European Court of Human Rights. To illustrate, the aspect of women’s rights needs consideration and improvement in the daily lives of women to meet the gap between formal rights and actual implementation of the same. What this means is that there exists a necessity to focus on translating the universal values enshrined under International human rights to local contexts that is the only option available to human beings irrespective of the geographical location to the ideals of equality and freedom from discrimination
In this context, there arises a need for establishing regional and sub- regional human rights codes or conventions. This has also been recognized by the United Nations since in absence of a universal approach that the South Asian states refuse to adopt, it is through regional initiatives that the motives of human rights could be achieved. The need for a regional initiative becomes even more significant because unlike Europe, America, and Africa there is no inter-governmental regional system for human rights protection in South Asia. In practice, the reason cited is that the human rights debate revolves around the South Asian views or perspectives. Although the South Asian governments have ratified international human rights instruments, they fail to reflect in the national constitutions or laws of most governments.
The fact that human rights will enjoy certain specificity in South Asia, still to be elaborated and applied, however, does not mean less for the universality of human rights. The reason being that the international human rights do not originate from merely one homogenous European value system or culture, but from various heterogeneous sources, some of these existing in the long history of South Asia. Thus, human rights are universal not only in their applicability to all human beings in every corner of the world, but are also universal because they originated from every corner in the world.
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