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What Effect Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Have on Migration Issues?

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Labour migration in Russia has suffered the shocks of the pandemic and the coming economic crisis, bringing about major changes to its present and future. Even today, many migrants find themselves in the difficult position of having to wait for the restrictive measures to be lifted, and their prospects of going home are vague (due to the borders being temporarily closed, as well as the fact that their home countries suffer from unemployment). Additionally, the access of migrants to the Russian labour market is shrinking rapidly. But do the massive changes that have taken place in 2020 constitute a turning point? How significant will their impact on the future of labour migration in Russia be? How will the situation in Russia be affected (and how much has it already been affected) by the changes in the Eurasian and global migration systems that have been brought about by barriers to migration that have only appeared recently? [1]

The Global Context

The “perfect storm” that has combined the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic drop in oil prices, the unfolding economic crisis (that is worse than the crises of the last decades), the closing of borders between states (including borders within regional unions such as the EU and the EAEU), the sharp restrictions in international trade, the long-term demand for political populism in most host countries stemming from playing the “migrant card,” the drought expected in Europe and the United States, and the unprecedented plague of locusts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, will all make it far more difficult to manage migration flows throughout the world.

The consequences of this “perfect storm” that is unfolding before our eyes are so significant that they have prompted a series of negative forecasts, ranging from doubling the scale of the expected famine (according to the United Nations World Food Programme, or WFP, over 265 million people across the globe may face acute food shortages by the end of 2020, which is 130 million more than predicted in 2019) to predicting a revision of the outcomes of globalization, partially abolishing the global division of labour and gradually drifting towards the principle of the self-sufficiency of national economies (if governments fail to take control of the crisis within a year). All these forecasts focus on factors that will ultimately affect migration processes, from prompting new refugee flows out of Africa to the increased vulnerability of migrant workers in most host countries.

New Changes and Changes Long Underway

Rapid changes taking place all over the world in 2020 have altered the challenges involved in controlling migration.

Over the past few decades, Russia has seen major changes in external migration, including differentiation of inbound flows (an increase in the share of families migrating, more migrant women and children, and greater age diversity); growing numbers of migrants from small towns and rural areas; falling education and income levels, as well as greater cultural diversity (including languages and faiths), among newly arriving migrants; and a change in the structure of migration flows, with migrants from Central Asia dominating.

On the other hand, the main incentives for migration to the Russian Federation have not changed: Russia has the best economic situation within the Eurasian migration system; it has an aging population and thus needs a labour force, including unskilled workers. Demand for unskilled labour is evidenced by a stable inbound flow of migrant workers who are mostly employed in unskilled, physically demanding and low-paying (as seen from the calculations of person-hours) jobs.

Migrant workers have essentially become an integral part of Russia’s labour market, and the changes that have taken place in labour migration over recent decades, coupled with the emergence and growth of a “parallel community” with “migrant” services and infrastructure, make their rapid and large-scale return home less likely. For many of them, Russia has already become a second home, and their principal hope for a better future. Nevertheless, some migrant workers will go home in 2020 (let us not forget that many of them are natives of small towns and rural areas who will be able to sustain themselves through their small farmsteads), although the contributing countries have very limited opportunities for supporting their returning citizens. For instance, experts propose giving away land in rural areas and decreasing the tax burden.

Recent expert reviews analyzing the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on labour migration mostly focus on the short term, while predictions of falling labour migration into Russia use the 2008 and 2014 crises as points of reference. However, the 2020 economic crisis in Russia has its own specifics: the economic situation has deteriorated sharply, and the pandemic has only added to its woes; there has been a sharp drop in oil prices; international sanctions have continued; borders have been closed and economic activities suspended. Another important factor is the social anxiety that the people of Russia have increasingly experienced over the past several years, which has been exacerbated by the negative socio-economic consequences that can already be observed (small and medium-sized businesses closing, large numbers of Russian citizens being laid off and having difficulties paying their mortgages, the vulnerability of mass medical services that has been highlighted by the pandemic, etc.). The state’s mitigating response has been slow in coming, even though it involves minimal costs. Consequently, we can predict an unstable socio-economic (and even political) situation, which will lead to issues of managing migration flows being relegated to the background, while homebound migrant flows will be greater than during previous crises.

The difficult situation today is fraught with unpleasant consequences both for migrant workers themselves and for the Russian labour market. In the coming months, migrant workers will be partially pushed out from the niches of Russia’s legal labour market in big cities. We know this from past experience (the crises of 2008–2010 and 2014–2016). However, purchasing power, which has been limited by the economic crisis, will work major changes in the shadow sector as well, curtailing the number of jobs even in those businesses that do not pay taxes (or do not pay them in full) and minimize their expenditures by way of the super-exploitation of labour. The shadow sector of the labour market is expected to grow. Foreign workers will compete with Russian citizens, and migrants will have certain advantages here, such as a willingness to work for lower hourly wages and in hazardous conditions, including those that are detrimental to their health. Today, the expected drop in quality of life in contributing countries (due, in part, to smaller money transfers from Russia) makes migrant workers a group that easily offers itself up for super-exploitation.

The changes that have taken place on the Russian labour market as a result of the pandemic (increased numbers of delivery persons, greater numbers of white-collar employees switching to online work, etc.) mean that jobs in delivery services that unemployed Russian citizens typically take as stop-gap solutions until they find a more permanent position will go to foreign workers in the medium term. The caregiving services (domestic workers) will continue to grow due to the aging of the Russian population, which will open up new opportunities for foreign citizens. In the medium term, agriculture will also offer more jobs to foreigners.

Two opposing trends will develop: the state will strive to collect more taxes, and entrepreneurs will strive to minimize their expenditures by hiring more foreigners, sometimes semi-legally and sometimes entirely illegally.

Obviously, in both the short and medium term, at greater or lesser pace, migration legislation will continue to be liberalized and the management of migration flows will become more flexible. For instance, during the pandemic, the President issued an executive order that eased the situation of migrants. In addition, a law was passed allowing those who wish to become Russian citizens to keep their previous citizenship, temporary residence permits were abolished and categories for obtaining Russian citizenship were introduced. These developments appear to be links in the chain of this gradual liberalization, no matter how slow it might be.

The events of 2020 will increase the number of foreign citizens willing to obtain a Russian residence permit or Russian citizenship, particularly among migrant workers who have years of experience living and working in Russia. Given the increasing competition with Russian citizens, migrant workers who want to reduce their outgoings will strive to improve their employability, and acquiring a more protected status will help them minimize risks in terms of finding employment and a place to live.

In the short term, when the restrictive measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, emigration of Russian citizens, including skilled workers, might increase against the background of the economic crisis. Educational migration from post-Soviet states (states contributing to Russia-bound migration) will increase, and the number of migrants studying at Russian vocational educational institutions whose graduates have good employment prospects in Russia will noticeably increase.

Many experts expect an uptick in Russia political activity among the Russian people after the pandemic. This may lead to populist parties enjoying more influence in political life, using xenophobic and migrant-phobic myths to boost their popularity.

Migration Challenges for Russia

The changes that have already taken place and are taking place now have brought the issue of modernizing migration challenges in Russia to the foreground.

Crime and Terrorism

Foreigners have never accounted for more than 3–4 per cent of all crimes committed in Russia, as attested by the official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Even given the difficult circumstances that migrant workers have found themselves in over the past few months, we can confidently say that crime is unlikely to surge among them. Their long-term plans are geared towards working in Russia, and Russia has strict rules in place that involve deportation after two offenses (including administrative offenses), followed by a lengthy ban on entering the country. These two factors are a powerful deterrent against any illegal activities. Migrant workers typically find themselves breaking the law when it is difficult for them to overcome the barriers to their acquiring legal status in a lawful manner, and when it is cheaper to solve their immigration issues through illegal means. We are talking about buying fake registrations cards and/or employment contracts, not felonies that involve harm to life or health. However, such situations raise more questions about the height of the hurdles that migrants must overcome in order to obtain legal status than about the migrants themselves.

In both the short and medium term, mass migration into Russia is unlikely to generate an increased terrorist threat. However, terrorism challenges will become more relevant in the long term if the state withdraws the previous funding for integratory measures aimed at migrants of all categories, including the integration of foreign-born Russian citizens, particularly children of naturalized migrants. Additionally, given the possible increase in nationalistic sentiments and the growing numbers of terrorist attacks and right-wing crimes, targeting migrants will become a serious long-term challenge.

Healthcare

The risk of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases quickly spreading among migrants is rather high: studies show that migrants tend to live in overcrowded conditions, have limited resources for purchasing protective equipment and medication, are poorly aware of the recommended preventive measures, and generally do not have medical coverage as the price of even the most medical insurance that would include semi-regular check-ups is prohibitively high for them [2]. Consequently, healthcare for migrants is the gravest challenge of all. Migrants fall under the most vulnerable categories during pandemics throughout the world, not just in Russia. International organizations have already voiced this problem.

Growing Xenophobia and Migrant-Phobia

It is possible that xenophobia and migrant-phobia in Russia may grow, and with Russian citizens losing jobs in large numbers, the possibility will only increase. In times of economic crisis, migrants are traditionally seen as competition for Russian citizens who work in menial jobs, which is only fair if heavily qualified, yet this idea is actively explored by populist politicians. Migrant- and xenophobia are unlikely to lead to serious ethnically motivated conflicts in the near future, but it will certainly increase the popularity of political parties and movements that use anti-migrant rhetoric.

Closed Borders

The situation of foreign migrants has already deteriorated significantly due to the restrictions on inbound, outbound and domestic travel imposed during the pandemic. These restrictions apply equally to Russian citizens and the citizens of the EAEU states. Travel barriers being lifted gradually will hardly result in a quick and full recovery of the migration opportunities that existed before the pandemic. This is also a major challenge, since restrictions on the free movement of labour curtail both regional and international economic growth pace.

Increased Job Competition

The upsurge in unemployment in Russia that began in March–April 2020 and is expected to continue in the coming months will increase the competition between Russian citizens and migrant workers somewhat in the short term. In the medium term, the decrease in the size of the working-age population will weaken this competition. However, if the negative scenario materializes (see below), domestic migration will push job competition between Russian citizens and migrants in large cities to higher levels than before the pandemic.

Depopulation of Russian Provinces

One challenge that has invited little discussion is domestic migration, including seasonal work, i.e. Russian citizens from economically depressed regions travelling for seasonal work to regions that are the strongest economically. Crisis phenomena will spur on domestic migration, especially after the peak of the pandemic has been passed, and this will lead to the faster depopulation of Siberia and the Russian Far East. This is a long-term challenge.

The “Brain Drain”

The emigration of skilled workers from Russia will continue to be partially offset by the influx of talented and educated professionals, primarily young persons, from post-Soviet states. This includes educational migration. A small uptick in the “brain drain” from Russia can be expected in the short term, mostly due to the narrowing windows of opportunity for the young generation due to the socio-economic crisis in Russia, and inbound migration will not entirely offset Russia’s “brain drain.”

Prospects and Conclusions

As of right now, in May 2020, it is difficult to make any accurate estimates about the migration consequences of the “perfect storm” that we are currently experiencing. Not until the pandemic ends and the socio-economic crisis that is brewing becomes clearer. Nevertheless, some consequences for the global community, as well as for Russia, can be seen quite clearly even now.

The International Situation

In the coming years, migrants around the world will experience greater labour exploitation and become increasingly vulnerable. This will be due, among other things, to the growing poverty in countries that contribute to the workforce, as well as to the growing need for migrants to transfer money back home.

Against the background of tightened restrictions and greater obstacles to legal migration, both undocumented (illegal) migration and human trafficking will increase.

Famine and social unrest (including armed conflicts) stemming from unresolved problems with food supplies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will increase the risks of new refugee flows.

If deglobalization does not lead to outright border closures and integration associations shutting themselves off (for instance, the European Union closing its borders), then it may, to a greater or lesser degree, result in new restrictions on migration. Having said that, the triumph of globalization is that it has been interfering with or even destroying the self-sufficiency of most countries for decades, increasing their dependence on the international division of labour, tourism, and trade. The cutting of international ties during the pandemic has worsened the situation in all states that depend on international supply chains. Consequently, a new upsurge in industrialization and reindustrialization in both developed and developing countries appears quite realistic. In the medium and long term, this development will bolster the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers and result in the obstacles to migration flows being somewhat relaxed.

Russia

Russia fits into most of the global trends outlined above.

In the short term, the EAEU partnership will take on more pragmatic, or perhaps stricter, forms. However, migration flows will not shrink. Instead, they will change their format: shadow labour relations will increase, as will the number of human rights violations; labour protection standards will deteriorate, and human trafficking will be on the rise. Thus far, the negative consequences of these changes are hard to assess, but in the medium term (the next three to four years), Russia can expect to see the following scenarios, all of which directly depend on the socio-economic measures the government adopts in the short term.

1. The optimistic scenario.

Once the restrictive measures are lifted, the Government of the Russian Federation will launch intensive purchasing power support by pouring money into the economy and helping it emerge from the “slowdown,” with special attention being paid to small- and medium-sized businesses [3]. Demand for migrant labour (both skilled and unskilled) will gradually increase, and in the medium term, those migrant workers who had gone into the shadow economy immediately after the restrictive measures were lifted and those who had temporarily returned home will have more opportunities for legal employment.

Centripetal trends in domestic migration (people moving to Central Russia) will remain in place, but there will be no major increases in seasonal workforce. Educational migration in Russia will continue at the same pace and will gradually become differentiated due to the influx of foreign students into Russian vocational educational institutions. Migration legislation will be further liberalized, thus stimulating the legal employment of Migrant workers. Considerable attention will be paid to the influx of skilled labour and to curtailing the “brain drain.”

This scenario implies migration flows returning to their previous levels in the short term and gradually increasing in the medium term.

2. The pessimistic scenario.

The Russian economy is slow to recover. Solvent demand is low. Real unemployment is growing. Jobs in economic niches that had been traditionally occupied by migrants are moving into the shadow economy. Migration-related corruption does not drop, or even grows and becomes a part of everyday life, making it more difficult for the authorities to manage the migration system. Business owners, particularly small business owners, prefer to hire migrant workers off the books. Super-exploitation of migrants continues or even increases. Non-payment of wages and other elements of human trafficking are not suppressed effectively and become more widespread. Foreign workers (including workers from Central Asia) are partially re-oriented to other labour markets. The “brain drain” and emigration from Russia continue, mainly in the form of young people.

Domestic migration into Central Russia is on the rise, as is seasonal work. Educational migration to Russia shows little growth, but Russian vocational educational institutions attract more foreign students. The liberalization of migration legislation slows down.

In this scenario, the migration flow will recover within the next one to three years.

Just which scenario will appear depends directly on the socio-economic situation in Russia and on the stability of its political development. Right now, the second (pessimistic) scenario appears more realistic.

[1]Ivakhniuk I.V. The Eurasian Migration System: Theory and Policies. Moscow: MAKS Press, 2008 (in Russian).

[2] Poletaev D. V. and Y. F. Florinskaya. Migrant Awareness of Tuberculosis and HIV. Moscow: Krasny Krest, 2015.

[3] When Does Russia’s Economy Pass the Point of No Return? Working Paper. April 2020. Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Institute for the Economy of Growth. http://stolypin.institute/institute/kogda-budet-proydena-tochka-nevozvrata-dlya-rossiyskoy-ekonomiki/

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Economics, Director at the Center for Migration Studies; Lead Researcher, Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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International Law

Ensuring Sustainable Development and Peace: Who in the UN is Against it?

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March 2021 marks a year since the World Health Organization announced that the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 had turned into a pandemic. Despite the highly negative socioeconomic consequences it had for the international community, the U.S.-led countries of the North did not alter their course to prevent the UN General Assembly from adopting resolutions (14 in total) aimed to ensure sustainable development and stable peace and to counter the use of unilateral financial measures, which remain intact and intended to curtail the international community’s efforts to guarantee the right to development and a decent life. Since resolutions are adopted by majority vote of all the UN member states (193), the efforts of the Global North prove futile, anyway. The article explores the stances of states when voting on the resolutions of the UN General Assembly pertinent to the issues discussed in this piece.

Promoting Sustainable Development and Stable Peace

In the context of global economic inequality, the North–South dichotomy is a conflict of interests between industrially developed and developing nations. The conflict has to do with the expanding gap in socioeconomic and cultural development between the “rich” countries of the North and the “poor” countries of the South. According to the UN, the number of people living in extreme poverty shrank from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the pace of the changes is slowing down and the world is running the risk of nullifying the decades-worth of progress in combating poverty.

The gap in capital distribution, income and quality of life brings about socioeconomic and political upheavals worldwide, which is a challenge to security and to the stability of the global economy.

Since the early 21st century, the international community has made serious efforts to counter the North–South dichotomy and eliminate the consequences of global inequality.

For instance, on September 8, 2000, the Millennium Summit adopted a Declaration that included a roadmap up to 2015. The document contained eight goals, 18 objectives, and 48 indicators for measuring the achievement of the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UN Sustainable Development Summit of September 25–27, 2015 unanimously approved the Sustainable Development Agenda. The document‒called “Transforming our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” and unofficially dubbed “Sustainable Development Goals”, or the SDGs‒contains a set of goals (17 in total) for international cooperation in global development. Part of the implementation of the Global Agenda, it went into effect on January 1, 2016.

However, from 2016 onwards, the United States, the European Union and their satellites, including Ukraine, started voting against the adoption of the resolution “Sustainable Development: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development”—something previously adopted without voting. In 2019, most opponents, with the exception of the United States and Israel, “abstained.”

The vote on the fundamental resolution “The Right to Development” showed a certain split among the countries of the North. However, the backbone of the “rich” Western European nations and the United States (as well as Ukraine, which sided with them) invariably cast their vote “against” the motion. Voting on such resolutions as “Implementation of the Recommendations Contained in the Report of the Secretary-General on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa” and “New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Progress in Implementation and International Support” showed differences in opinions as well.

The European Union member states and Ukraine support the United States in voting against the resolution “Promotion of Peace as a Vital Requirement for the Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights by All,” which, among other things, stresses that the ever-increasing gap between the developed and the developing worlds poses a major threat to global prosperity, peace and security, and stability. A similar situation happened with the resolution “Eradicating Rural Poverty to Implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

We should also note that the U.S. stance under the Trump Administration changed radically‒and this position was supported by Israel only, as well as by Libya in one instance‒when voting on the following UN General Assembly resolutions:

  1. “The Right to Food” (in 2009–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; the United States and Israel have voted against it since 2017).
  2. “Global Health and Foreign Policy: Strengthening Health System Resilience through Affordable Health Care for All” (in 2008–2017, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2018, the United States and Libya voted against it; in 2019, it was adopted without voting; in 2020, the United States alone voted against it).
  3. “International Financial System and Development” (in 2000–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018–2019, the United States alone voted against it).
  4. “International Trade and Development” (in 2011–2016, the resolution was adopted without voting; in 2017 and 2020, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2018 and 2019, the United States alone voted against it).
  5. “Commodities” (in 2004–2015, the resolution was adopted without voting every two years; in 2017, the United States and Israel voted against it; in 2019, the United States alone voted against it).

Use of Unilateral Financial and Economic Measures

Global economic inequality along the provisional “North–South” confrontation axis was particularly evident during the pandemic, when the effect of sanctions acquired the scale of an emergency (Venezuela, Iran).

In order to help the international community overcome the consequences of the coronavirus, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed the heads of the G20 member states at the very outset of the pandemic (March 25, 2020), calling for them to lift their sanctions so that states would have access to food, essential goods and medical aid in combating COVID-19. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for easing sanctions against states combating COVID-19. Restrictive measures can hinder the effective response to the pandemic, which will inevitably have a negative impact on other states. The United Nations and the international community have placed overcoming the pandemic and its consequences at the top of their agenda.

At an extraordinary G20 Summit on March 26, 2020, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin proposed introducing green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions and open primarily for essential goods, food, medicines, personal protection equipment needed precisely to combat the pandemic. On the same day, the eight states currently under restrictive measures, specifically Russia, Venezuela, Iran, China, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua and Syria, sent a letter to Antonio Guterres on the negative impact the sanctions were having on the human rights agenda and economic growth.

On April 3, 2020, Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, called for lifting or at least suspending sanctions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opinion, unilateral measures adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council affect economic, social and civil rights and, most importantly, the right to development. The pandemic has obviously resulted in unemployment, bankruptcy of some economic sectors and falling incomes, thus exacerbating the negative effect of unilateral economic restrictions. The sanctions policy hinders the recovery of markets and the global economy, which has a knock-on effect on the development of emerging markets.

Despite calls from the United Nations, the countries of the North do not deem it necessary to change their sanctions policies. In December 2020, the United States, the European Union and the few states that joined their ranks, including Ukraine, voted against the Human Rights and Unilateral Coercive Measures resolution that calls, among other things, for ceasing the use of essential goods as a tool of political coercion, especially in the context of global healthcare problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the United States and the European Union typically vote differently on the resolution “Unilateral Economic Measures as a Means of Political and Economic Coercion against Developing Countries” since 2001, the EU countries have abstained from voting, while the United States and Israel have voted against it. However, when voting on the resolution “Toward a New International Economic Order” (a supplement to the existing resolution on the “International Financial System and Development”), where the General Assembly calls for an international order based on the principles of “sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, cooperation, and solidarity among all States” and also recommends that states “refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures,” the EU and their satellite states, including Ukraine, support the United States and vote against such motions.

Russia and the Sustainable Development Goals

Russia supports the adoption of the above-listed resolutions of the UN General Assembly and actively promotes development goals, both by incorporating them in its national projects and strategic development planning and by giving other countries access to financial resources. Over the last two years, Russia has provided humanitarian aid to 21 states in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, over USD 25 million worth in total. Interest in providing international aid has only increased amid the pandemic: Russia provided anti-coronavirus aid in the form of medical equipment and products, personal protection equipment and medical ventilators to more than 20 states.

On March 17, 2020, the Government of the Russian Federation approved the Priority Action Plan for Ensuring Sustainable Economic Development in Conditions Exacerbated by the Spread of COVID-19, which is aimed at achieving the SDGs nationally. The anti-crisis plan provides for the following measures: provision of essential goods; support for economic sectors in the risk zone; support for small- and medium-sized enterprises; and general system-wide measures (establishing a guarantee fund for restructuring loans to companies affected by the worsening situation as a result of the spread of COVID‑19; compiling a list of backbone enterprises in the Russian economy; and operational monitoring of the financial and economic state of backbone organizations).

Currently, the SDGs in Russia are integrated into national projects and other strategic and program documents, such as the Food Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation, as well as state programmes, such as “Development of Education,” “Accessible Environment,” “Promoting Employment” and “Comprehensive Development of Rural Territories.” In 2020, twelve national projects as well as the Comprehensive Plan for Modernization and Expansion of the Trunk Infrastructure cover 107 out of 169 objectives set forth by the UN.

From our partner RIAC

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China and India must stop rivalry and begin to reform the Third World

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The First World has been anticipating with a great enthusiasm to see geopolitical tensions between China and India. On the one hand, the United States has been wittingly trying to control the Indian Ocean. On the other, the diplomatic and trade ties between China and India are lopsided. Boycotting Chinese goods by India certainly enlarged the tensions not only between these Asian powers but also among the Third World states and most importantly in South Asia region. The People’s Republic of China, which is being considered as superpower of Asia must stop diplomatic rivalry with its neighbor and decades long diplomatic partner, India. The Republic of India, which is also being considered as one of the largest economies outside the west, has to stop its rivalry with China to safeguard non-western economic interests. As world observing, there has been frontier dispute going on between these two non-western largest political and economic powers for a last couple of years.

According to customary International law, as far as any territorial dispute is concerned, every state has the right to protect its national borders without any external legal oppression. In this regard, as far as China is concerned, it has its primary responsibility to protect its national borders. On the other, India has also unequivocal responsibility to protect its national borders under the Law of Nations. In these adverse circumstances, the leader of the Third World ( to some extent, I refer this word as leader of the third world, since China has a tremendous capability to lead the developing world ) and as well as the fastest growing economy of the Third World must unite and strive for three essential goals. I would clearly argue about them here. Before that, let me get into the economic background of these two nations.

Since the end of the Second World War, these two former British colonies have strived tremendously for becoming economically self-dependent nations. But in those attempts, China has accelerated its industrialization in the period of Den Xiaoping and turned as a manufacturing hub of the world, while India has only become as largest importer of goods, however it got reached to the peak stage of International economic order that could slightly influence International legal order. The main contention of this piece lies in examining why India and China should stand together as a common force. Let me now turn towards the main argument of this writing. The leader of the Third World China has to strive to become success in three essential goals with the collaboration of India.  The first essential goal is to mobilize non-western nations to fight for decolonization of west made International law. The second essential goal is to fight for new global economic order, which can make Third World rich. And the third one that what China must do is to promote industrial growth in Third World nations.

Let’s debate one by one. In the past history, the rest of the world outside the west had been arguably ruled by the European powers. There were plenty of battles, as we all know taking place for safeguarding their sovereignty. It must be admitted that the International rules, whatever were substantially made by the colonial powers, were framed to suppress non-western people. To prove it, the Third World International law scholarship has accepted that International law is a product of European civilization, which is in this 21st century being used as a legal instrument by the United States to expand west’s global dominance. Prof Antony Anghie, the vital voice of the Third World Approaches to International law, clearly mentions in his great writing “Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International law” that “International law is an absolute construct of Western colonial powers with imperial ambitions”. This interpretation of Prof Anghie, should deeply be understood by each and every student of International law with legal intellectual concern. We should never like to hate the west and blame the First World and its leader the United States. But, Third Worldism has to rethink its history unavoidably to generate new form of International, political and economic policies for its self growth. Most important thing among all the concerns is that China which I refer as leader of the Third World, should work to increase the political and legal ability of the Third World countries at International platform that is the Security Council. Third World countries absolutely do not have participation in the Security Council, which is considered as a top body of the world where the final decisions on global conflicts are made. So in this context, China and India must initiate the political and legal campaign of the Third World to reform the Security Council. This should become an agenda of the Asian African countries too.

We are turning towards the second essential goal that is the new global economic order. The whole word is currently living in the age of Globalization. To say in simple terms, the Globalization is nothing but the global capitalism, which affects the daily life of an ordinary citizen of the world. However, the Globalization has its roots in International Economic Order adopted in 1974 by the United Nations General Assembly. As the rest of the world outside the West knows that, the developing countries were intended for economic decolonization and as well as to decrease the dependency on industrially developed nations. The process of economic decolonization of the Third World is linked with economic policies of the Bretton Woods Institutions, since most of the power lies with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The New International Economic Order which is intended to decolonize developing economies, being violated by the developed nations and International financial institutions. The founding principles of the G-77 countries have not been reached through United Nations General Assembly adopted International Economic Order. In above mentioned facts and factors, the Globalization has been playing a primary role in influencing and shaping Global South economy. The western richness is absolutely on the rise due to existence of International trade and economic norms that are maintained by the system of Globalization. In this context, the leader of the Third World China and the fastest growing economy of the Third World India, must initiate a campaign for a new Global Economic Order which would eradicate poverty and make the Third World rich.

Now debating regarding third essential goal that is to develop industrial growth in Third World countries. The modern economic history begins with the Industrial Revolution which had taken place in Europe. It had a destructive effect on Third World domestic productions. But in the 21st century it is fully occupied by the People’s Republic of China. One of the major developmental obstacles facing Third World countries is the industrial growth. The vast gap that exists between the affluent First World countries and the impoverished Third World countries is indirectly dictating these poor countries to obey the west dominated global economic, political and legal order In the TWAIL scholarship, the ideas propounded by scholars like RP Anand, Prof Bupendra Chimni have affirmed that modern International law was an Eurocentric creation determined to uphold the economic hegemony of the West. In the backdrop of such a historical anomaly, both India and China should alter their parochial stances in order to counter the Western hegemony in the International economic sphere. In this context, these two countries China and India have to review their foreign policy to cooperate with other Asian and African countries in terms of developing domestic industrial growth. There is a need for Third World countries to depend on industrially developed states since these countries have no all sorts of domestic industries. But of course I would agree that the interdependence of countries with each other is inevitable in this era of Globalization. In spite of that, No country should be forced to make her foreign policy favor to a particular state which is against the freedom of a state under International law. In these circumstances, the Third World countries should be encouraged profoundly towards industrial growth. Most importantly, the leader of the Third World China has to prefer it as a principal agenda in its foreign policy. China’s rivalry with India splits up India from this sort of International economic, political and legal conceptions.   

Concluding Remarks

As I have mentioned above, economic needs of a country decide the way of a country where to go in International arena. To say in simple terms, economics dictates politics while politics dictates law. So, to achieve new International legal order, should develop economic capability of the Third World. As I have said before, the leader of the Third World China and one of the largest economies of the world India both must put an end to frontier disputes and initiate a campaign for three essential goals that I have already mentioned. The first and primary essential goal is to mobilize non-western nations to fight for decolonization of west made International law. China and India both alone would never achieve this great achievement. All non-western nations are required to be mobilized to work for decolonization through reformation of the Security Council. The second primary agenda is to fight for new Global Economic Order, which protects the natural rights of states like sovereignty over all their natural resources. The final and concluding agenda is to encourage industrial growth in Third World states, which would decrease the dependency of states with each other.

Finally I reached to the end and I would conclude by stating a great remark that International law is never separated from International politics while International politics is never separated from the global economic policies which are framed and monitored by the Bretton Woods Institutions.

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International Law

Chagos: An Achievement in Self-Determination with a Treacherous Path to Decolonization

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The overwhelming global support for the United Nation’s 2019 Chagos International Court of Justice (I.C.J.)Opinion and General Assembly Resolution was a remarkable success for modern-day decolonization. However, real-world implementation of the decisions will be incredibly complicated, perhaps even to the extent that full decolonization of Chagos becomes impracticable and/or illegal. Resolving the U.K./Mauritius legal sovereignty dispute over the Chagos archipelago was only the tip of the iceberg.

Implementation of decolonization will require at least five critical steps. First, the Chagossians still require legal and practical support to resettle the islands. Second, Mauritius needs to come to an agreement with the U.S. regarding the future of the Diego Garcia military base. Third, that agreement and Mauritian state responsibility for the base will need to address ongoing violations of numerous anti-nuclear, anti-arms, and human rights treaties. Fourth, Mauritius will need to ensure a military presence adequate to maintain a deterrent effect against nearby aggressors, which may require keeping some weapons on-site, and in which case Mauritius will need to seek amendments to or withdrawals from some of its current treaties.  Finally, and perhaps most critically, Mauritius needs to address global climate change impacts, because if it does not, in a matter of decades the islands will be uninhabitable or even fully submerged, leaving the previous four points irrelevant.

Background

The Chagos islands are an African archipelago that cover 1,950 square kilometers, with Diego Garcia as its largest island.  Colonial occupation of Chagos by the U.K. started in 1814 when it was administered as a dependency of Mauritius (another British colony).

Sixty years ago, the United Nations passed the Declaration on Decolonization, committing to the swift end of colonization and declaring that all people have the right to self-determination.  In 1946, Mauritius was listed as a non-self-governing territory under Article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations.

The General Assembly(G.A.) passed Resolution2066 (XX) in 1965 calling for the U.K. to immediately and fully decolonize Mauritius. In September 1965, the U.K. and Mauritian governments entered into an agreement allowing for the detachment of Chagos before the remainder of Mauritius gained independence. Mauritius was forced into the agreement despite its protests, with U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson threatening the Mauritian Prime Minister: “[I]f you don’t agree to what I am proposing [about Chagos] then forget about [your] independence.”Following the coerced agreement, the U.K. created the British Indian Ocean Territory (B.I.O.T.),which included Chagos and preserved it as a British colony.

In 1966, the U.S. and the U.K. concluded an international agreement allowing the U.S.to use Diego Garcia as a military base. Per the U.S.’ request, the agreement provided for the “resettling [of] any inhabitants,” who were the Chagossians, thousands of descendants of people forcibly transported from Mozambique and Madagascar in the early 1800s and enslaved to work on the islands’ coconut plantations. The U.K. forcibly removedthe population, though the displaced Chagossians continue to protest, and the U.K. later apologized for the “shameful and wrong[ful] forcible removal.”

In 1967, the G.A. passed Resolution 2357 (XXII) expressing “[deep] concern[s]” about “disruption of the territorial integrity” and the “creation … of military bases” on several of the non-self-governing territories, including Mauritius (and its dependency, Chagos). The resolution reiterated that these actions are incompatible with the purposes and principles of decolonization.

In June 2017,theG.A.requested an Advisory Opinion from the I.C.J. regarding the sovereignty of Chagos. The request asked two questions.  First, was the decolonization of Mauritius completed when it gained independence in 1968, after the excision of the Chagos archipelago? And second, if not, what legal consequences flow from the U.K.’s continued administration of the archipelago?

The I.C.J. judges relied almost exclusively on customary international law in their opinion and their opinion was the first time the Court recognized the rights to self-determination and territorial integrity under customary international law.  The I.C.J. found that state practice and opinio juris requirements were met in 1960, and thus the new customary international law crystallized that year making the dismemberment of Chagos from Mauritius a violation of international law. The court reiterated the same concerns noted in the G.A.’s 1967 resolution.

Then, in May2019, the G.A. adopted Resolution 73/295 which incorporated the Chagos Advisory Opinion and took steps to effectuate it. Only six states voted against it. The resolution requests that the U.N. and other international organizations support the decolonization of Mauritius and prohibit aiding any claim of sovereignty by the U.K. over the B.I.O.T.

Next, Mauritius took a separate maritime dispute about overlapping economic zones to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Mauritius’ neighbor, the Maldives, refused to negotiate with Mauritius about the dispute, citing an “ongoing” sovereignty dispute with the U.K. even after the U.N. opinion and resolution.

In January 2021, ITLOS, under the authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), issued a preliminary decision on the economic zone dispute, that the case could proceed because the I.C.J. Opinion had “legal effect and clear implications for the legal status of the Chagos Archipelago,” and was “authoritative.” The tribunal found Opinions do have legal effect in situations like that of the Chagos sovereignty dispute.

Next, Mauritius is lobbying the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (I.O.T.C.).  Following the Chagos Opinion, Mauritius requested to expel the U.K. from the I.O.T.C., as membership is only for states with coastlines along the Indian Ocean Region (I.O.R.). The ITLOS decision strengthened the Mauritian case with the I.O.T.C. because tribunal was established under the same convention as the commission, and the U.K. is also a member state to that convention. One would think the I.O.T.C would approve Mauritius’ request, however because diplomatic relations with a global superpower are at stake, it is challenging to predict how the Commission will proceed.

Obstacles to Effective Implementation

The U.K. Needs to Accept the Legal Decisions.

The U.K. and U.S. responses were standard for any imperial powers: they rejected the nearly unanimous U.N. resolution, committed to maintain the status quo of exploitation and imperialism, made threats against those who questioned their authority, and boasted their superior military power as the determining factor in territorial possession. The U.K. historically said it will hand Chagos over to Mauritius when it is “no longer needed for defense purposes, ”but it has become clear the U.K. does not see that situation occurring anytime soon.

Regardless, the global community nearly unanimously agreed that the U.K. is well overdue to decolonize Chagos. This is now reflected in binding international law. However, the U.K.’s stubbornness is merely one of several problems that Mauritius faces in the decolonization of Chagos.

Chagossians Resettlement and Reparations.

Once the U.K. finally concedes, the real-world implementation of decolonization will be extremely complicated. First, there is the question of the fate of the Chagossians. The Chagossians have expressed concerns that recent developments will not actually allow for resettlement. The Chagos Opinion and Resolution said nothing of specific resettlement plans. The Chagossians who went to the I.C.J. to view the proceedings were even denied entry to the Court. Further, Mauritius’ claim to the Chagos archipelago was based on its own interests, not the Chagossians. Mauritius’ legal achievement increased the size of the state dramatically, including new ownership of the largest undamaged coral reef in the world as well as a sea-floor rich in minerals. The Chagossian people do seem to be an afterthought in these conversations, with the primary interest in the U.K./Mauritius dispute being the land and economic zone.

The Fate of Diego Garcia and its Nuclear Weapons.

In 2020, Mauritius offered the U.S. a 99-year lease of Diego Garcia with resettled Chagossians kept at least 100 miles away from the base. However, the U.S. declined. In 2016, the 50-year period covered by the U.K. and U.S. in the 1966 Agreement came to an end but was extended for a period of an additional twenty years until 2036.

If the circumstances of the proposed Mauritian/U.S. lease sound oddly familiar, it should, as the U.S. has leased the 45 square mile Guantánamo Bay military base since 1898, with Cuba retaining ultimate sovereignty. Cubans are not allowed on the base, and the Castro government declared the U.S. presence an “illegal occupation” of its territory. The U.S.’ experience with Guantánamo Bay has been very problematic and may dissuade the U.S. from attempting to replicate the situation in Africa, especially considering the billions of dollars the U.S. has already invested in Diego Garcia.

Following the U.N. decisions, Mauritius is now in the position to decide whether to allow the continued use of Diego Garcia as a military base, and if so, to charge the U.S. for use. Hosting the base would allow Mauritius to increase its military strength, limit its dependence on India, and avoid the complexity of trying to evict the U.S. – all of which likely factored into Mauritius’ decision to allow the U.S. to remain.

Even if the U.S. agrees to sign a new lease with Mauritius, Mauritius will be faced with additional legal complexities regarding illegal arms and violations of human rights. The U.S. stores weapons in their ships anchored in the huge 125 square kilometer lagoon, including: anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs, nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, and a large quantity of nuclear materials, vehicles, and weapons. The U.S. and U.K. claimed that storing the weapons on U.S. ships gives the weapons “state immunity,” a unilateral interpretation contested by the International Committee for the Red Cross. This leaves Diego Garcia a “prime arms control loophole,” with its legitimacy only supported by the muscle of the superpowers who currently occupy it, not the law.

Continuing to lease Diego Garcia to the U.S. under current conditions would violate Mauritius’ obligations under the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (“Pelindaba”) Treaty. Under the treaty’s terms, Mauritius cannot allow the stationing of any nuclear weapons in its territory. It would also conflict with the General Assembly’s 1971Resolution2832 (XXVI), stating that the I.O.R. should be a “zone of peace” with no military bases or weapons.

Further, Mauritius may face human rights charges if the U.S. continues to use Diego Garcia asa “black site” for interrogations, detentions, and torture. The B.I.O.T. is referred to as a “human rights black hole” as the U.K. government refused to extend numerous human rights agreements to the territory. Human rights investigators and journalists have been barred from visiting the island despite the C.I.A.’s denial of torture allegations.

Security Risks in the Indian Ocean Region

During U.N. debate, U.K. fiercely argued only it can ensure security in the I.O.R. Mauritius’ attorney on Chagos summarized the U.K. argument in saying, “much of the General Assembly listened [to the U.K.’s arguments] in rapt embarrassment, unwilling to buy arguments of a kind you might find in a 1930s textbook on colonialism and diplomatic practice.”However, it is not that simple. While the U.K. might not be the only power able to ensure the security of the I.O.R., security risks to the area do need to be addressed and monitored. Freedom of navigation in the I.O.R. is at risk with any de-stabilization of the area. Other states with Indian Ocean coasts are supportive of the continuing presence of the U.S. base, desiring to keep Chinese naval power at bay. Despite the U.S.’ presence on Diego Garcia conjuring up images of a nuclearized Rambo sequel, it does apparently serve important values in the current political landscape.

The U.S. said a primary objective for Diego Garcia is to maintain the power balance in the I.O.R., enforced by the presence of naval units which “preserve necessary deterrence.”Indeed, it’s been often said, “whoever controls the Indian Ocean controls Asia. The ocean is the key to the seven seas.”The I.O.R. also faces numerous ongoing maritime security threats, including piracy, armed robbery, human smuggling, drug smuggling, illegal fishing, and terrorism.

China also has nuclear weapons, as one of the five states allowed to maintain them under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, the threats from China are even more complex, with their “String of Pearls” militarization of the I.O.R., concerning use of nuclear submarines and drones in the I.O.R., and aggressive actions in the nearby China Seas.

This leaves Mauritius in a difficult position. If Mauritius tries to expel the U.S. completely from Diego Garcia, it could wreak havoc on the stability and security of the I.O.R., impacting nearby countries’ maritime rights. However, if Mauritius allows the U.S. to continue administering the military base, Mauritius will need to make some tough decisions regarding the U.S.’ nuclear weapons and materials stored in the harbor. One option is to persuade the U.S. to remove the nukes voluntarily. A second option is to lobby the African states to amend the Pelindaba treaty.  The final option is that Mauritius can withdraw from the Pelindaba treaty. If Mauritius does persuade the U.S. to remove all nuclear materials from the Indian Ocean, the majority of the assumed deterrence power of the base is gone.  That new gap may allow for China, India, and other power-hungry states to expand their footholds and encroach further into the I.O.R.  Mauritius would need to prepare for this as a possibility. 

The removal of cluster-bombs and anti-personnel landmines from Diego Garcia would not create as significant of an impact to security in the region, however it would still require Mauritius to persuade the U.S. to do so. We all know that telling the U.S. to do something it does not want to do rarely goes well. Further, the same diplomacy obstacle will be faced in ensuring Diego Garcia is not used for future torture and other human rights violations.

Mauritius Needs a Plan to adapt to Global Climate Change.

All of this will be for nothing though, if Mauritius does not create a plan and secure resourcing to protect Chagos from the effects of global climate change. Scientists expect Chagos, along with other low-altitude islands in the Indian Ocean, to experience the most severe sea level rise.

The entirety of Diego Garcia is at risk from the devastating effects of global climate change. In 2007, a U.S. blue ribbon military advisory panel found Diego Garcia at risk of submersion due to low land elevation at only 1.3 meters and rising seas. The U.S. may need to close the base, perhaps in a matter of decades.

Two outer atolls were studied for resettlement in 2002, with 35 islands averaging two meters elevation. Climate change is expected to at least cause an increase in cyclones, flooding, and coastal erosion, coral bleaching, and freshwater salinity on the islands. Scientists found short-term resettlement feasible, though long-term maintenance prohibitively expensive.

Whatever Mauritius decides regarding the other issues, it will also need to incorporate climate change adaptation plans.  Instead, it could also start with a more robust climate change study to assess whether all the above trouble is actually needed or if the islands are destined to soon be underwater and should be treated as such.

Conclusion

Following the overwhelming support of the 2019 U.N. decisions, it appears there is no longer a significant, global pro-colonial force. There is no longer reverence for old world superpowers refusing to acknowledge they are now in a new world. The Chagos decision is hopefully a sign of more decolonization to come.

However, the actual implementation of the decision will be long and arduous. There are many complex decisions to make, which will require continued partnerships and support from the global community. Further, some of the major risks provoke questions as to whether resettlement should actually even be attempted.

Self-determination does not necessarily mean returning to the status quo – it is the power to decide what to do next. The symbolism of that is already evident by Chagos’ impact to the global consciousness and conscience over the last few years.

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