Global Press Freedom Windowsill in 2019: Gasping for Nonconformity and Sustainable Media Pluralism
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.
Putin, Xi, the ICC, and the Demise of Global Judiciary
Authors: Roman Kusaiko and Alexey Ilin*
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian president Vladimir Putin. The press release stated that Prosecution’s application was filed on the February 22, 2023, while the existence of the warrants was disclosed on March 17, 2023. This is the first time the ICC releases a warrant against a sitting president. Moreover, it immediately preceded the visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which took place on March 20-22, 2023. While the warrant is expected to force Russia and its leader into submission, the end result may be the erosion and eventual demise of the universal criminal justice.
The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute (done July 17, 1998, in force July 1, 2002) to prosecute the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (Rome Statute art. 5). The ICC has three main advantages against its predecessors – the ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). First, it is a permanent court. Second, it is based on an international treaty and not the United Nations Security Council resolution, which gives it more legitimacy. Third, the ICC jurisdiction is not limited to a particular country or case – the Court can prosecute a crime if it was committed either by a national of a State Party, or on a State Party’s territory. Generally, officials of the non-party states cannot be prosecuted, but even this barrier can be overcome if the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the UN Security Council (Rome Statute art. 13(b)).
France and the UK are the only State Parties to the ICC among those countries that legally possess nuclear weapons (under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty). China, India, Pakistan and North Korea neither signed nor acceded to the Rome Statute while the U.S., Russia, and Israel officially refused to ratify the treaty. The attitude towards the Court reveals a divide in states’ perception of international criminal justice. Countries with extensive military capabilities decided not to delegate any of their judicial power to an external international institution. The rest of the countries delegated their authority to an international judiciary seeking justice in case any major crimes are committed against them.
Since its inception, the Court’s authority has been facing challenges, especially from the U.S. The latter has a long history of complicated relations with the ICC, from open hostility to the recent bipartisan support. Most prominently, the “Hague Invasion Act” grants the U.S. the right to use military force to liberate any U.S. or allied country’s citizen being held by the ICC. The existence of such methods undermines the authority of the Court and also manifests that the U.S. and its allies are “out of judicial range” and thus not accountable before the international community.
The ICC has been repeatedly stumbling in its attempts to investigate the most serious crimes in the areas where the U.S. and their allies conducted their military operations. Between 2014 and 2020, the ICC investigated the war crimes in Iraq (willful killing, torture, and rape) committed by the armed forces of America’s closest ally – the UK. Nevertheless, the investigation was closed in 2020 raising criticism from European institutions, non-government organizations and multiple media sources. Some critics claimed the ICC’s refusal to hold the UK accountable discredited the Court’s authority. Afghanistan has been a State Party to the ICC since 2003, but the Court has not taken any decisive actions in this country until October 2022, when its Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the Prosecution to resume its investigation of war crimes. This move has been first rejected in 2019, and then deferred in 2020. Likewise, the ICC Preliminary Investigation team has been halting the prosecution of war crimes committed in Syria for more than three years despite the ample evidence.
At the same time, reasonable grounds against Vladimir Putin for organizing an unlawful deportation of children were found in less than a month – an unprecedented speed. The disclosure of the ICC warrant on March 17, 2023 suspiciously coincided with the announcement of Xi Jinping’s official visit to Moscow. The announcement was made only on the 17th of March, 2023, with the agenda reported by both Chinese and Russian sources. It is hard to believe in such a coincidence, especially after subsequent remarks by the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that the warrant targeted Chinese leader’s visit. While some media claimed Putin’s days are now numbered, the others were more skeptical referring to the West’s “deafness” for their own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ICC warrant sends several signals to the Russian state, society, and beyond. The first one is to oust Vladimir Putin from the office to improve relations with the West. The second one is for the Russian elites: as long as Putin is in power, their assets will be always under threat of sanctions and even confiscation. The third one is for the other world leaders: leaving Putin alone at the table will not be enough – legal actions should be taken against him. The Russian leader should become a pariah. One may argue, that such a strategy could be partially successful in 2014, but an open Chinese criticism of the warrant demonstrates that it will have serious limitations in 2023.
Vladimir Putin will not willingly step down, but the warrant will push his government to build parallel institutions with friendly or non-aligned countries. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin proposed to pass an act similar to the “Hague Invasion Act.” In addition, he prompted the Russian government to sign bilateral agreements which will guarantee the denial of the ICC authority. Moreover, the depth of the issues discussed between Putin and Xi suggest that Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could become an “umbrella” for alternative global institutions, including the judiciary branch. The SCO already hosts regular meetings between the chairs of the Supreme Courts. As more countries are willing to join in, it may become a respected institution of transnational justice. This development, amplified by U.S. unaccountable posture, will bury the once noble idea of global judiciary in The Hague. The ICC will remain what Rwandan President Paul Kagame called it, “the court for Africans and poor countries.”
*Alexey Ilin, Ph.D. candidate at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
Should We Claim We Truly Understand International Politics?
When the guns roar, the muses are silent, an ancient Latin proverb tells us. This aptly describes how convincing our attempts to explain what is happening in international politics are, from the point of view of the existing apparatus of its rational understanding. For those who try to pretend to understand how international relations evolve, the saddest casualty of current events is the practice of interaction between states, which jettisons all the pre-existing notions at our disposal.
This applies to both academic scholars and those who approach the assessment of political reality from a purely intuitive point of view. Any intuition inevitably fits into the framework of our own worldview, which, in turn, has long been systematised in one way or another within the framework of the science of international relations. Namely, it suffers the greatest defeat of all social disciplines at moments when states and leaders base their actions in feelings, purely individual ideas and moral character. Individuals enter the historical arena, making decisions within the framework of a subjective understanding of the world around them, intellectual abilities or corporate interests.
Conceptualisation, at least on an analytical or on an intuitive level, will be possible later – when the dust of battles has somewhat settled, and the theorists will have firm support in the person of the winners, whose interests will become the basis of a new international order. It has always been like this – the science of international relations has consistently followed practice, guided by only one goal – to understand why this or that power, in the end, benefitted the most from the consequences of a general tragedy. In our case, however, this won’t happen, or at least not soon. Until then, any aspirations to understand what is really happening in international politics will end up with rather monotonous judgments, the only difference between which is how open is the attempt to interpret reality in favour of the interests of one of the fighting parties.
Each political scientist becomes a soldier of his country, and the space for relatively impartial analysis disappears – even those who claim to be impartial inevitably finds themselves within the framework of an interpretation that serves the interests of one of the warring parties. The chroniclers would be relatively independent amid modern conditions, however, the facts now are a very relative thing, easily amenable to extremely convincing falsification. Even playing the role of a holy fool is impossible – in conditions where shells whistle overhead, his innocent bleating always turns out to promote the advantages of one of the opponents. Like the light of the sun or the direction of the wind.
In fact, any of our reasoning that purports to reflect an abstract “understanding of reality” becomes like this. The fact is that we still find examples for comparison in the historical experience which are also the most comfortable for one of the parties participating in the current conflict. Regrets about the collapsed world order or globalization are, of course, humanly understandable. However, they first inevitably send us in the direction of searching for ways to restore something like the lost era, and its illusion of relatively evenly distributed prosperity. This, we agree, fully reflects the interests of the Western countries and is somewhat inconsistent with the way Russia, China and most developing countries would like to see the world. Second, even our conceptual apparatus and categories, which technically have the possibility to construct so-called ideal schemes of the future, were formed within the framework of the international order, where for 500 years a rather narrow group of powers occupied the leading positions. Therefore, when speaking of the need to restore order, we are already at risk of becoming defenders of the interests of status quo powers – our categorical apparatus is still practically undeveloped in terms of a different, more just, from our point of view, international order.
It is not surprising that in a situation where thinking about foreign policy and international relations is a more common and ancient profession, fellow intellectuals have overnight turned into mouthpieces of information warfare. It is sad to read the comments of colleagues representing the realist direction of the science of international politics in the United States: the overwhelming majority of their opponents have completely lost the ability to take any critical view of the behaviour of their homeland and its closest allies. In other words, American, and Western in general, political science has clearly defined which side of the front it is fighting on and will be able to return to a more balanced discussion only after the active phase of the confrontation between the powers is over.
The use of the existing theoretical apparatus for assessing the international reality resembles a funny anachronism, no matter which of the theories we turn to. The reason is that they are also the product, first and foremost, of a specific and geographically localised historical experience, and only secondly of attempts to subordinate social activity to some ideal schemes based on our ideas about universal morality. Powers representing such a variety of political civilizations have now entered a world arena that one cannot rely on, including a systematic understanding of the nature of relations between them. All existing theories were created in a very simple world, where it was always easy to understand the basis of the position of a state within the framework of social relations of its kind.
Each of the nation-specific ways of interpretation cannot claim to be more than a systematisation of worldviews inherent in an individual, rather unique, culture. It is, of course, useful to create, for example, a Russian theory of international relations amid such conditions. First, it will somewhat reduce our dependence on Western concepts, which is extremely good in itself. Second, moving along this path will allow one to understand yourself a little more. This is especially important for Russia, since awareness of self-worth for our political culture is much more important than external recognition. However, in terms of being able to understand international politics in general, we still will not get very far – we will just become the authors of another original view.
Finally, practically all powers whose capabilities are sufficient to pose a potential threat to life on the planet, do not now even have a relatively formed idea of their own ideal future. The Americans are trying to pretend that the return of hegemony over the world will solve their internal development problems. However, this approach causes concern in principle, since moving forward while looking behind you is liable to lead to a fall. Russia is also in search of a state where it can feel self-worth, and the conflict with the West is, in addition to eliminating military-political imbalances, the basis for a better understanding of itself, outlining the image of the future in conditions where it is no longer possible to continue life in the old way. Of all the great powers, only China confidently says that it knows what future it is aiming for. But here, too, we have reason to think that the Celestial Empire is only approaching the need to provide answers to questions about a suitable position for it in world politics and economics.
The position of Europe is dramatic. It is aware of its rapidly declining strength and is increasingly choosing the lesser of two geostrategic evils, from the point of view of the modern European elite. Such behaviour poses a challenge to diplomats, since the choice of the European elite consists of a conscious rejection of international agency of their countries. Under such conditions, not only our ability to discuss international politics seriously in an academic audience freezes, this politics is itself entering a peculiar and very static mode of operation. In fact, it only seems to us that now history is developing rapidly – in fact, it has stopped, and its millstones continue to idle, grinding tens of thousands of human lives.
From our partner RIAC
The New High Seas Treaty: Takeaways and answering the hard questions
On 04 March, Rena Lee, President of the UN Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), announced that “the ship has reached the shore,” referring to the last compromise and successfully negotiated to stumble block of this historic treaty, which marked the apogee of over two decades of negotiations to protect the ample internationally ungoverned space of the ocean. The last time the countries came together to gather political will during geopolitical tensions to protect biodiversity was on 01 December 1959 during the cold war to declare Antarctica a place for peace and science.
The draft agreement of the ‘The New High Seas Treaty’ emphasises the need to address the planet’s largest unregulated biosphere for the sustainable use of resources and biodiversity protection. It covers the expansive portion of the ocean beyond national boundaries and will provide a legal framework for designating vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against marine life degradation and sharing of resources. It is necessary to identify, monitor and regulate vulnerable areas to address the commitment of protecting 30 Percent by 2030 endorsed by COP 15 in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022. Exit options and other unique provisions for the Arctic or China Sea and other geopolitically tense areas are also mentioned to avoid disagreements and conflicts within the agreement.
The stumbling block of this treaty was how to appropriately share marine genetic resources (MGR) and wealth, which separated the Global South and North. Due to their potential for application in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, MGR, which are made up of the genetic material of bacteria, corals, krill, seaweed, and deep-sea marine sponges, are gaining more scientific and commercial interest.
The agreement is legally binding and establishes a new global authority for the high seas, complete with an executive body called “COP,” a secretariat, and a scientific council. It is based on certain principles and approaches like the polluter-pays principle, the principle of the common heritage of humankind, the freedom of marine scientific research, and other freedoms of the high seas.
In addition, an approach for maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity, including the carbon cycling functions that support the ocean’s role in climate while also increasing ecosystems’ resilience, is practiced. Signatories are also tasked with conducting environmental impact assessments before exploitation, exchanging marine technology with other littoral states, and monitoring the space for other threats.
What are the High Seas and the threats present on them?
States currently govern up to only 200 nautical miles of seas from their coasts, delineated by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But beyond the nautical boundaries are the high seas, which only one percent are protected. States have access to freedoms, including the right to overfly, navigate, and install underwater cables. The high seas cannot be the subject of any claims to sovereignty. Once expressed as desolate, it is now considered a treasury of rich biodiversity and marine resources. However, they are being exploited by technological advances enabling them to deplete fisheries and seabed minerals. Deep-sea ecosystems may change or be destroyed by machine-aided excavation and gauging of the ocean bottom. As a result, there will be a loss of species in addition to fragmentation or loss of the structure and functionality of the ecosystem.
Increasing cargo ship transportation and their Bilge Dumping practices also threaten the open ocean. Bilgewater, which gathers in the bottom of a ship, is a mixture of fluids from the engine room and other potentially harmful materials like lubricants, cleaning agents, and metals like lead and arsenic. It is expensive to process this oily effluent, whether by treating it to eliminate contaminants or by discharging it at the port. Some ships simply dump it into the ocean with portable pumps, which can be a significant hazard to marine life, to save operational expenses.
Another threat in the high seas is the Great garbage patch, which carries and culminates tonnes of plastic debris released through river exits. They are carried and formed by ocean currents and “gyres.” There are five gyres in the ocean. One in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. Garbage patches of differing sizes are located in each gyre. Cleaning up these garbage heaps and systematically disposing of them is a heinous task.
In addition, Climate change is heating the oceans, which may result in a mass extinction of marine life like the Permian Extinction experienced 250 million years ago, which extinguished 90 percent of marine species. The oceans have mitigated the worst of climate change by absorbing 90 percent of the heat caused by global warming and providing us with 50 percent of the oxygen.
What are the existing treaties on High Seas, and what are their issues?
About 20 international organisations oversee human activity in the high seas in accordance with UNCLOS, although their authority is constrained. In the shipping industry, for instance, the International Maritime Organization is in charge of safety and pollution control, whereas regional fisheries management organisations are in charge of particular fish populations. Yet, a lot of marine species migrate and regularly switch between various environments into the wild ocean which are unprotected from human activities.
The International Seabed Treaty is less concerned with conserving the environment and more interested in advancing the ultimate extraction of valuable mineral accretions from the seabed. Exploratory mining licences have never been denied. The contracting entity does environmental impact assessments; they are not independently verified and investigated. The ISA dismisses the worries of environmental groups like Greenpeace about defending the seabed from similar mining in the future or from the several very detrimental environmental side effects that would be involved.
What does the treaty pose to International Security?
First, an increased presence of private players. The implementation process of the treaty will see an increased presence of private maritime players as the agreement does not apply to the Navy warships. However, they are expected to behave reasonably with the agreement. Ocean conservation is currently led by non-governmental organisations funded by philanthropists, bureaucrats, and governments.
Second, increased monitoring and surveillance. To assess environmental impacts, monitor and traffic control ships, and provide constant surveillance over an expansive area will require advanced remote sensing and imaging technologies. There will be a need for marine spatial analysis and planning to track human activities and the ecosystem. New marine technologies must be exchanged between the developing and developed states to explore the deep ocean and seabed’s for research and exploitation. Increased monitoring will be a critical challenge for the littoral states to move their submarines in stealth and secrecy.
Third, potential for new marine resource-induced conflict. Though the agreement states that the marine samples and genetic coding will be shared, it does not mention who can further exploit the resources and with whom it shares. Does it share with the states involved in the exploration or those proximate to the resource.? Here, Global North faces the question of the free-riding problem and whom to free-ride its services.
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China Gains Political Clout in the Middle East at the expense of the US’s Indispensability