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International Law

United Nations Security Council’s failure to redress the Rohingya refugee crisis

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Authors: Tanaya Thakur and Amit Kumar*

The issue of violence against Rohingya muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar has been a cause for global as well as regional concern for the past many years. Rohingya Muslims have been allegedly facing violence and discriminatory practice in the Buddhist dominated state since 1970s; on the grounds of ethnicity, language, and religion. The matter has however gained global prominence only in 2015; when mass exodus of the Rohingya muslim population happened from Myanmar to nearby South-Asian states. The migration was a result of clash between Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Myanmar army. Post the clash, Myanmar military launched a clearance campaign against them which resulted in burning down of several Rohingya villages and forcing around seven hundred thousand to flee and settle in other states. The Rohingya crisis has been dubbed by the international community and academic commentators as border lining the heinous offence of genocide.  The matter has been debated in the United Nations, regional forums, within domestic jurisdictions of south Asian states, and also in international courts, namely the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On 23rd January 2020, the ICJ pronounced certain provisional measures to be adopted with respect to the Rohingya refugees; holding that Myanmar should take all possible measures to prevent the commission of acts falling within the scope of the definition of genocide (Article II of the Genocide Convention); ensure that its military and any organizations or persons subject to its control, direction or influence do not commit acts of genocide and any ancillary offence, take effective measures to preserve any evidence related to allegations of genocidal acts; and submit a report to the Court on all measures taken to give effect to the Order within four months and thereafter every six months until a final decision on the case is rendered. The order was then communicated to the Security Council by the Secretary General; who also expressed hope that Myanmar would ensure compliance of the ICJ’s order.

Due to the difference in their structure from domestic judicial bodies, international courts such as ICJ do not have the means to ensure the enforcement of their judgments. For this purpose they have to rely on state machineries themselves or on organizations such as the United Nations (Articles 94, 98, 99 of the UN Charter). In most cases the Security Council (UNSC) is vested with the responsibility to enforce ICJ judgments, even though the General Assembly has the power to work towards enforcement. Pursuant to this, a meeting of the UNSC members was called for to work out a method to ensure compliance of the ICJ provisional measures. The meeting was however vetoed by China and Russia and hence a conclusive plan of action could not be achieved.

China and Russia have time and again expressed that it is a bilateral issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh and should not be discussed at international forums. This view was also previously expressed at a meeting between UN and ASEAN to discuss provisional measures’ compliance and role of UN-ASEAN co-operation for the same. In another instance, China and Russia along with Equatorial Guinea voiced opposition when Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar was supposed to address the council as to its finding on the refugee crisis. They stated that the mission’s mandate was not to brief the Security Council. It was also asserted that the UNSC’s duty was limited to protect international peace and security it should not get involved in country-specific human rights violations. It was the UN General Assembly which then on the basis of findings of the same commission adopted a resolution that condemned the violence and discrimination towards Rohingyas and called on Myanmar’s government to combat provocation of hatred against the Rohingya and other minorities in the states of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan.

This is not the first time that the Security Council is failing to take any action in a crisis situation due to usage of veto power. In the case of Rohingya refugee crisis, the veto has been used by China and Russia; in other matters of UNSC interest it has been some other nation to use the power. The veto power vested with the Security Council to ensure maintenance of world peace through co-operation and coordination has in fact played a counter-effective role with overuse and misuse to achieve the five permanent nations’ own agendas.

The Rohingya crisis has been acknowledged as an international concern by majority states. The independent fact-finding mission by United Nations in its report presented evidence of gross human rights violations driven by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya population. Evidence of systematic cleansing through killings, violence, rampage, sexual assault and rapes were discovered by the mission and presented in its detailed report. The mission confirmed ‘genocidal intent’ on part of higher official’s in the Myanmar army and recommended prosecution. The government of Myanmar has however continued to deny any form of genocide and has maintained that at most it is a war crime that would be dealt domestically by the state. Apart from denying any form of systematic cleansing, the Myanmar government has also, with its passive approach in the issue, failed to ensure safe return of Rohingyas from other states. Most of the Rohingya population has been rendered stateless and is reduced to a situation of abject poverty. They lack basic amenities like food, water and education and have been refused refugee status in states like India, Thailand and Indonesia where they are considered illegal immigrants. When evidence of state supported violations of human rights are available in Myanmar; gruesome enough to create heavy displacement in the region – it can no longer be said to be internal matter of the state.

The United Nations was established with the primary purpose of maintaining world peace and security (Preamble and Article 1(1)). It has the obligation to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace. The Preamble to the Charter also mentions that the Charter reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, and in the dignity and worth of the human person. The UN Security Council has been conferred with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. Thus, an issue of the magnitude of Rohingya crisis falls into the ambit of the United Nation’s goals. The UNSC taking action on the matter in no way oversteps boundaries and in fact would be a step forward in realizing its objectives.

Considering the facts, question arises as to why permanent members such as China and Russia have been using their veto powers to stop the UNSC from discussing the issue. There are a number of reasons that explain China’s position. First, China has several multi-million dollars economic projects lined up in Myanmar as part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Myanmar has already been cautious about China’s investment plans and has treaded with more caution than any other developing nation regarding the project. If China speaks up against the Chinese government in an international forum or becomes party to any debate on the matter – it would lose Myanmar’s faith which has taken years to develop. Second, with USA receding from the international economic market; China has found an opportunity to position itself as the new global power-center.

Establishing itself as the regional power-center is a stepping stone in achieving that objective. Securing Myanmar’s trust by using it powers in the UNSC could be one way to protect this objective. Third, China has maintained that its general international policy is one of non-intervention and non-alignment. It has stated that it shall work in the international forums only on issues of extremism, terrorism and separatism. It also maintains that ‘westernized’ ideas of human rights should not be imposed on states and they should be allowed to develop their own rights. It further argues in favour of internal safety and security. Intervening in the Rohingya crisis would go counter to China’s international relation policies (for further understanding reference can be made to Shanghai Cooperation Organization). This is also one reason why it speaks in favour of an internal arrangement in Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. Fourth, discussion on the Rohingya crisis in the UNSC could act as a catalyst in opening the floodgates to similar problems of violence been discussed. This could potentially lead to trouble for China which itself is accused of behaving similar to Myanmar in the case of Uyghur muslims. Last, Russia has been a close ally to China for some time and has similar international policies; which would explain its veto in the Rohingya case. Russia also has a history of alleged genocidal acts and persecution against its muslim population.

In the Rohingya issue there were several steps that the Security Council could have otherwise taken to ensure that the situation was brought under control and the human rights violations were stopped. It was not necessary that the persecutors of Rohingya’s were prosecuted internationally. The UNSC could have over the period pressurized the government into conducting a fairer domestic trial of those involved. Rohingya muslim’s safe return to Myanmar and a domestic settlement between the parties could have been ensured through a threat of sanction from the UNSC. Had personal interests been kept aside by UNSC members, the UN Charter could have been used to find means of settlement between the Rohingya muslims, Myanmar and Bangladesh – which has borne the maximum burnt of the crisis. Though, individual efforts have been taken by certain countries, like the USA which has imposed sanctions upon certain military officials from Myanmar for the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims – barring them from entry to the United States; a collective action from the UNSC has been missing.

The Myanmar army which is being accused of perpetrating the alleged genocide of Rohingya muslims, is vastly funded from the revenues generated by two companies owned by it, apart from funding from the state. These military owned firms were found to be a “risk contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” by the UN fact finding mission. The UNSC could have imposed an embargo upon those companies which have trade relations with military owned companies in Myanmar.

Apart from these options, the council could have either set up a criminal tribunal or referred the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The council has previously resorted to the mechanism of setting up tribunals to try and punish those individuals who were accused of committing grave breaches of Geneva Convention, genocide or crimes against humanity in case of conflict in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. In case of South Sudan (Darfur), the UNSC had referred the situation to ICC. The Rome Statute gives power to the UNSC to refer any situation to the ICC for investigation of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. The UN mission had identified involvement of military and police officials in the commission of these crimes in Myanmar. Even though the matter reached ICC; it came as a reference not from the Security Council but from Bangladesh. The Court relied on an expansive interpretation of the Statute to establish its jurisdiction on the issue, as Myanmar was not a party to it. Had a UNSC reference been made, it would have been easier for the Court to answer the question of jurisdiction.

It goes on to demonstrate how the Security Council has been unsuccessful in performing its responsibilities because two of the permanent members used their veto power to further their interests. Veto power has been used by the permanent five as a tool for manipulation, rather than as the shield it was meant to be. If the Security Council is to work towards its goal, the veto power needs to be re-imagined. With the sword of veto hanging over, important decisions which require the Security Council’s intervention will fail to get due attention. However, due appreciation should here be meted out to other international organs – the UNGA and ICC, which stepped up when the UNSC failed and worked towards restoring faith in international law.

*Authors are Research Scholars at, IIT Kharagpur (RGSOIPL). They have completed their masters in international law from South Asian University, New Delhi.

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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International Law

Authentic Justice Thus Everlasting Peace: Because We Are One

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The ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a good thing. We thank God for it. Be it between two individuals or institutions or nations or the internal colonial and colonized, war does not do anything except cause more immediate or future mass misery and human destruction. Our continued memories of our interpersonal and international and internal colonial and civil wars and the memorials we erect to remember them recall and record wounds and pains we never get over. 

So it becomes a bothersome puzzle as to why we human beings still just don’t get that war like oppression leads to nowhere except to more human devastation. And we should have learned by now but have not that peacemaking like ceasefires mean nothing without justice.

 It is the reason why I constantly find myself correcting those who stress Peace and Justice.No Justice No Peace is more than a cliche.It is real politic emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Our American inner cities like those in every continent where culturally different and similar people live cramped impoverished lives and nations and colonial enclaves with such unequal wealth remind us of their continued explosive potentialities when peace is once again declared but with no justice.Everyone deserves a decent quality of life which not only includes material necessities but more importantly emotional and spiritual freedoms and other liberations.Not just the victors who conquer and rule and not just the rich and otherwise privileged.

 And until such  justices are  assured to everyone peacemaking is merely a bandaid on cancerous societal or International conflictual soars which come to only benefit those who profit from wars which are bound to come around again when there is no justice and thus peace such as  family destroying divorce lawyers, blood hungry media to sell more subscriptions , arms dealers to sell more murderous technologies, politicians needing  votes so start and prolong wars, and military men and women seeking promotion while practicing their killing capacities.

So if those of us who devoutly practice our  faiths or our golden moral principles,  let us say always and pray and advocate justice and peace always  as a vital public good  and  do justice then lasting peace in our personal lives and insist that national leaders, our own and others do the same in their conduct of international affairs and affairs with those who are stateless in this global world. 

All such pleading is essential since we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God who created all of us  in God’s image as one humanity  out of  everlasting divine love for all of us so we should love each other as God loves all of us  leading to desiring justice and thus lasting peace for each and every one of us.

This is difficult for those in international affairs to understand who take more conventional secular approaches to historical and contemporary justice and peace challenges as if our universal spiritual connectivennes  ( not to be confused with the vast diversity of organized religions)as human beings which makes us all brothers and sisters has no relevance. But if we are going to find true enduring peace we have no alternative but to turn our backs on increasingly useless secular methods which go either way, stressing peace then justice or justice then peace and understand how much we must begin to explore and implement approaches which we look at each other as spiritually connected brothers and sisters in which it is the expectation that peace only comes and lasts when  through the equal enjoyment of justices for every human being, we restore our universal kindred rooted in the everlasting love of God and thus for each other, no matter the different ways in which we define God or positive moral principles which originate in understandings that we human beings in all our diversities are one and thus brothers and sisters.

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