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Sikhs And Justice: An International Humanitarian Law Approach To The Study Of Operation Bluestar

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6th of June 1984 is considered as the darkest day in the history of the Sikhs all around the world. This was the day when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple, the holy shrine of the Sikhs to drive out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed men who had taken refuge in the Temple complex since 1982. Bhindranwale had started a movement to attain justice for Sikhs who were being discriminated on various grounds. The Indian Government saw this as a secessionist movement, which is why Bhindranwale and his group were considered as a threat to the nation. This paper endeavours to study the Operation Blue Star from the international humanitarian law perspective by establishing it as a non-international armed conflict. It is divided into five parts. The first part deals with the history and the background to the operation and also highlights the reason why the Indian Army attacked Golden Temple; the second part then throws light upon the definition and the types of the armed conflict in the international humanitarian law and also ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the third part tests the incident of operation against the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the fourth part discusses the nature of State’s response which is considered in excess in terms of human rights and humanitarian law obligations. These four parts are then followed by a conclusion.

Background

Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1469 in Punjab, a state being shared by both India and Pakistan. Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism played a major role in the Indian Freedom Movement[1] but did not receive much appreciation even though they were promised jobs and a better livelihood in the post-Independence era. The newly framed Indian Constitution’s Article 25 identifies Sikhs as Hindus, which aggrieved the Sikhs even more leading to a lot of resentment against the Indian state. In the 1950s, the linguistic groups across India sought statehood that led to the formation of a State Re-organisation Commission in 1953. The government of India was apprehensive of carving out a Punjabi speaking state as that would also lead to dividing the state on religious lines between Hindus and Sikhs. The hindi newspapers from Jalandhar urged the hindus to exhort hindi as their mother tongue which is why the demand for a separate Punjabi Suba (State) was defeated. The Akali Dal, a political party formed during the Gurudwara Reform Movement in the 1920s, continued their agitation for the creation of a separate Punjabi Suba and it was finally agreed to in 1966. Thus areas in the South of Punjab that spoke the Haryanvi dialect of the hindi language formed a new state of Haryana, the Pahari speaking areas were merged with Himachal Pradesh and the remaining Punjabi speaking area retained the name Punjab with Chandigarh as a Union Territory and as Punjab and Haryana’s common capital.

This linguistic reorganization of the states created a lot of problems. Many of the Punjabi speaking areas were given to the State of Haryana, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory and the joint capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana and the Centre took control over the waters of the rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and made arbitrary allocation. The Centre even took control over various power and irrigation projects. After the reorganization of the state, Akali Dal gained the majority in the Punjab Assembly elections in 1967 but Punjab saw an unstable government for five long years owing to defection. Later on in 1972 after the Bangladesh’s Liberation War Congress emerged victorious at both the Centre as well as in Punjab. Nevertheless in 1973 the working group of the Akali Dal came with a resolution, which was adopted at Anandpur Sahib and came to be known as Anandpur Sahib Resolution.  It advocated for the federal structure in which the Central Government should actualize the federal concept of India by granting autonomy to the provincial government in all the areas except defence, currency and foreign relations. It was in 1982 that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, leader of Damdami Taksal-a Sikh religious organization joined hands with the Akali Dal in order to implement the Anandpur Resolution. Bhindranwale as he was fondly called grew popular amongst the Sikh population of Punjab but notorious with the government. He was even arrested for the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, editor of a popular Hindi daily newspaper who had campaigned against Punjabi being adopted as a medium of instruction in Hindu schools and even urged the hindus to accept Hindi as their mother tongue and reject Punjabi in order to defeat the Anandpur Sahib resolution. However, Bhindranwale was released without being charge sheeted due to lack of evidence. Meanwhile the law and order situation deteriorated in Punjab and there were a number of confrontations between the police, Babbar Khalsa and Dal Khalsa’s army. Later on sometime in 1982, Bhindranwale was invited by Harchand Singh Longowal to take refuge in Guru Nanak Niwas, Golden Temple’s guest house. Bhindranwale then even took charge of the Akal Takht, one of the five Takhts of the Sikh religion also known as the seat of temporal justice, thus becoming the Takht’s Jathedar. He then fortified the Temple with heavy machine guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles were brought in.[2] Though Bhindranwale strongly advocated for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution which mostly focused on the Centre-State relations, greater status to Punjabi and the distribution of the waters of the rivers yet it was mostly seen as a secessionist movement by the Central Government. Indira  Gandhi then ordered the expulsion of Bhindranwale and his army from the Golden Temple Complex. The Indian National Army took charge of the situation and attacked the Golden Temple with tanks and artillery on the 6th of June 1984. Thousands of pilgrims belonging to the Sikh faith had gathered in and around Golden Temple, to mark the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and also the founder of the Temple since the 3rd of June and though entry to the Temple was permitted but they were not allowed to exit it. The survivors of the attack are of the view that the Army deliberately chose this day to carry out the operation in order to wipe out as many Sikhs as possible. The unarmed civilians were attacked incessantly. Even the Sikh Reference Library, which is located inside the complex, was attacked and ancient scripts and artefacts were looted by the army and loaded in trucks to be taken to Delhi. The operation was considered extremely disproportionate and not at all necessary, as the number of Bhindrawale’s armed forces was extremely small as compared to the collateral damage. The civilians who survived often call it as a conspiracy to kill Sikhs and finish the faith in one go. Though the official number of casualties is reported as a few hundreds but the actual number soar really high. The operation was seen as an attack to crush the Sikh militants out of the Temple, yet the author in this paper tries to equate it with non-international armed conflict in order to trigger the mechanism of international humanitarian law principles, thus making the Indian State responsible under the international law.

Armed Conflict

International humanitarian law (IHL) is a branch of international law that governs the conduct of armed conflict. It applies only to a situation of an armed conflict.[3] Therefore, in order to determine whether IHL applies to a situation of violence it is necessary to first asses whether the situation amounts to an ‘armed conflict’. IHL does not provide for a definition of armed conflict. However, it recognizes two types of armed conflicts: international armed conflicts (IAC) opposing two or more states and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between governmental forces and non-governmental armed groups, or between such groups only, which was established by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.[4]Prior to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it was thought that civil conflicts were outside the scope of international law. Since the situation of Operation Bluestar under study resembles a NIAC therefore only the ingredients of a NIAC would be discussed. NIAC can be applied through Common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, customary IHL and Additional Protocol II (AP II) where ratified.

Common Article 3 applies to “armed conflicts not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties“. These include armed conflicts in which one or more non-governmental armed groups are involved. Depending on the situation, hostilities may occur between governmental armed forces and non-governmental armed groups or between such groups only. However, NIAC needs to be distinguished from internal disturbances including isolated and sporadic acts of violence.

AP II on the other hand, applies to armed conflicts “which take place in the territory of aHigh Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over apart of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operationsand to implement this Protocol”.

This definition is narrower than the notion of NIAC under common Article 3 in two aspects.

Firstly, it introduces a requirement of territorial control, by providing that non-governmental parties must exercise such territorial control “as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol”.

Secondly, AP II expressly applies only to armed conflicts between State armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organised armed groups. Contrary to common Article 3, the Protocol does not apply to armed conflicts occurring only between non-State armed groups.

In this context, it must be reminded that Additional Protocol II “develops and supplements” common Article 3 “without modifying its existing conditions of application“. This means that this restrictive definition is relevant for the application of Protocol II only, but does not extend to the law of NIAC in general.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court, in its article 8, para. 2 (f), confirms the existence of a definition of a non-international armed conflict not fulfilling the criteria of Protocol II.

Statute of the ICC, art. 8 para. 2 (f): “It applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups“.

In order to distinguish an armed conflict, in the meaning of common Article 3, from lessserious forms of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions, riots or acts ofbanditry, the situation must reach a certain threshold of confrontation. It has been generally accepted that the lower threshold found in Article 1(2) of APII, which excludes internal disturbances and tensions from the definition of NIAC, also applies to common Article 3.

Two criteria are usually used in this regard:

First, the hostilities must reach a minimum level of intensity. This may be the case, for example, when the hostilities are of a collective character or when the government is obliged to use military force against the insurgents, instead of mere police forces.

Second, non-governmental groups involved in the conflict must be considered as “parties to the conflict”, meaning that they possess organized armed forces. This means for example that these forces have to be under a certain command structure and have the capacity to sustain military operations.

As per the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic case, an armed conflict involving non-state groups arises only if the violence is protracted and the non-state groups are organized. From the above discussion it can be made out that the following form the ingredients of a NIAC:

Armed conflict between a State and a non-State actor or between these non-State actors

A modicum of organization of any party to the conflict: According to the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic, an armed conflict involving non-State actors must involve ‘organised armed groups’, that have a clear chain of command. Each group involved in an armed conflict need not be clearly differentiated and defined, as there may be a number of loosely related armed groups involved. The ICTY Trial Chamber has further explained the following as ingredients of organization:

The existence of command structure and disciplinary rules;

Control of a determinative territory;

Access to weapons, equipment and military training;

The ability to define military strategy and use military tactics.

Protracted violence: In the Tadic case, the appeals chamber held that for a NIAC to exist there must be ‘protracted armed violence’ which has been authoritatively repeated in article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Yoram dinstein infers that occasional unrest does not amount to NIAC and that there needs to be a series of ‘isolated and sporadic’ internal disturbances for a NIAC to come into existence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Juan Carlos Abella v. Argentina concluded that an armed conflict has occurred in Argentina, even though the skirmish lasted for 30 hours in total. But Dinstein does not agree with this decision. However, the IACHR holds that in borderline cases there may be a presumption in favour of the existence of an armed conflict.

Intensity of fighting: This requirement should not be looked at as an alternative to protracted violence. The ICTR Trial Chamber in the Akayesu case had stated that the intensity of hostilities ought to be ascertained ‘on the basis of an objective criteria’. In the aftermath of Tadic, multiple judgments of the ICTY have come up with various indicia in order to assess the intensity of the fighting required in a NIAC. These include: the numbers of casualties, the diffusion of violence over territory; deployment of military units against the insurgents; the types of weapons used; the siege of towns; and the closure of towns.

Application of International Humanitarian Law to The Operation Blue Star

The situation of Punjab was dismissed as a mere law and order situation, which is why the State never became liable under the IHL regime. However, this study aims to analyze the situation in Punjab against the ingredients of the NIAC as many Sikh organizations have had asked for a UN probe in this matter as they regard it as a violation of IHL.

Armed Conflict:The situation in the 1984 attack on Golden Temple involved a confrontation between the Indian Army and the armed men, led by Bhindranwale who had taken refuge inside the Golden Temple Complex. There are documented evidences that show that the attack was conducted in a systematic manner with sophisticated weapons being used by both the sides including anti-rocket launchers, AK-47s etc.

Modicum of Organization:  The non-state actors in this conflict i.e. Bhindranwale and his followers were under the command of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. There were also other forces some named and some unnamed one of them being, Babbar Khalsa that had joined hands with the Bhindranwale and were indirectly under his control. Bhindranwala’s force had actually fortified the Golden Temple area with sophisticated weapons. General Kuldip Singh Brar who led the Operation Blue Star had pointed out at the foreign assistance received because of the foreign weapons that were seized from the Bhindranwale’s army during the operation.[5]The Khalsa army, as it was mostly referred to, had received their training under the aegis of Major General Shabeg Singh, an Indian army officer noted for his service in training of Mukti Bahini volunteers during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Major General Shabeg Singh taught the army military tactics, that he had acquired during his service with the Indian Army.From this data it can be made out that the Khalsa army satisfied the ingredients of the modicum of organization given out in the Tadic case that have acquired the status of customary international law.

Protracted Violence: The operation was not a single event of violence but rather one of the major events in order to bring the situation in Punjab under control and to drill fear in the minds of the other Sikh outfits that were said to be leading the secessionist movement.

Intensity of Fighting:The operation was one of the very intense operations in the history of the Indian Army. As mentioned above, the official number of casualties is very low, lying somewhere in a few hundreds but eyewitnesses and the survivors’ account tell a different tale altogether. As per the survivors, the pilgrims were being let in the Golden Temple from the 2nd of June 1984 but they were not allowed to leave, which is why the casualties were quite high. Bhindranwale and his army is said to be a few above hundred but the civilians who lost their lives are said to be somewhere above seven thousand. The operation saw a parallel attacks on other gurudwaras in Punjab with the deployment of about 1,00,000 army personnel throughout Punjab. The weapons used on the other hand were highly sophisticated ones. The army even broke the stairs leading to the entrance of the temple to bring in tanks. While Bhindranwale was said to be in possession of foreign weapons including machine guns, anti rocket launchers etc.[6] Most parts of Punjab especially Amritsar were brought under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Conclusion

From the analysis made above it can be said that the situation in Punjab was surely not just a law and order situation. It resembles heavily with the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict, thus a deeper study needs to be conducted in order to determine the status of the operation blue star. Sikhs for Justice, a private organization based out of United Kingdom had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights calling for the setting up of a tribunal to investigate alleged crimes against the members of the Sikh community during the 1984 Operation Blue Star. It reads that it clearly violated the basic humanitarian law provisions for the protection of the civilian population and for the protection of cultural objects and places of worship as set out in the Geneva conventions.[7] The Sikhs have been awaiting justice for the missing members of their families before and even after the operation, destruction of their holy place of worship, the Sikh Reference Library, the killing of the thousands of the civilians who had gathered inside the Golden Temple just to pay obeisance at the Temple and also for the thousands killed during the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and other parts of India after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the attack at the Golden Temple. Once the Operation is considered a NIAC it would be easy to drag the Indian State to the United Nations and submit her to the jurisdiction of a Tribunal, if it is ever set up.


[1] KS Duggal, “Sikhs in the Freedom Struggle”, Mainstream Weekly, 19 August, 2008 <https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article891.html>accessed on 21st May, 2020.

[2] Ranbir Sandhu, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale- Life, Mission and Martyrdom, (Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, 1997).

[3] Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic (Appeal Judgment), 15 July 1999, ICTY.

[4]Tadic’s case held that:

…an armed conflict exists wherever there is a resort to armed forces between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring states or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there.

[5]General Brar had said this in an interview to the press during the operation.

[6] This was revealed by General Kuldip Singh Brar in an interview during the operation.

[7]“Operation Blue Star: Sikh rights group seeks UN probe”, The Indian Express, June 7, 2017 <http://indianexpress.com/article/world/operation-blue-star-sikh-rights-group-seeks-un-probe-4693609/> accessed on May 21st, 2020.

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International Law

Is Antarctica the new Eldorado? The sixth continent between claims and international law

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December 1, 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of the signing in Washington of the Antarctic Treaty, the main legal instrument for managing practical activities and regulating interstate relations in the territory 60°parallel South.

On May 2, 1958, the U.S. State Department sent invitations to the governments of Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, Great Britain, New Zealand, Norway, the then South African Union and the USSR for the International Antarctic Conference. It was proposed to convene it in Washington in 1959. The group of participants at the Conference was limited to the countries that had carried out Antarctic projects as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) (July 1957-December 1958).

The Soviet Union supported the idea of convening a Conference. In a letter of reply, the Kremlin stressed that the outcome of the Conference should be the International Treaty on Antarctica with the following basic principles: peaceful use of Antarctica with a total ban on military activities in the region and freedom of scientific research and exchange of information between the Parties to the Treaty.

The Soviet government also proposed expanding the group of participants at the Conference to include all parties interested in the issue.

In those years, the international legal resolution of the Antarctic problem had become an urgent task. In the first half of the 20th century, territorial claims to Antarctica had been expressed by Australia, Argentina, Chile, France, Great Britain, New Zealand and Norway.

In response to the Soviet proposal, the United States kept all the territorial claims of various countries on the agenda, but it undertook to freeze them. Russia, however, believed that third parties’ territorial claims had to be denied. At the same time, the position of both States coincided almost entirely insofar as the right to make territorial claims for the ownership of the entire continent could be retained only as pioneers.

The USSR relied on the findings of the expedition by Russian Admiral F.G.Th. von Bellingshausen and his compatriot Captain M.P. Lazarev on the sloops-of-war Vostok and Mirnyj in 1819-1821, while the United States relied on the explorations of N.B. Palmer’s expedition on the sloop Hero in 1820.

The Conference opened on October 15, 1959 in Washington DC. It was attended by delegations from twelve countries that had carried out studies as part of IGY’s programmes in Antarctica.

The Conference ended on December 1, 1959 with the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. This is the main international law instrument governing the planet’s Southern polar region.

The basic principles of the Treaty are the following: peaceful use of the region, as well as broad support for international cooperation and freedom of scientific research. Antarctica has been declared a nuclear-free zone. Previously announced territorial claims in Antarctica have been maintained but frozen and no new territorial claims are to be accepted. The principle of freedom to exchange information and the possibility to inspect the activities of the Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have been proclaimed. The agreement is open to accession by any UN Member State and has no period of validity.

Over time, it has been proposed that the political and legal principles of the Treaty be further developed in the framework of regularly convened consultative meetings. Decisions at these meetings can only be taken by the Parties to the Treaty that have a permanent expedition station in Antarctica.

All decisions are taken exclusively by consensus, in the absence of reasoned objections. The first Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in the Australian capital, Canberra, from 10 to 24 July 1961.

Until 1994 (when the 18th Consultative Meeting was held in Kyoto), meetings were held every one or two years, but since the 19th Meeting held in Seoul in 1995 they have begun to be convened on a yearly basis. The most recent Meeting, the 42nd one, was held in Prague from 11 to 19 July 2019. The 43rdConsultative Meeting will be hosted in Paris on 14-24 June, 2021: the suspension of the Meeting that was to be held in Helsinki from 24 May to 5 June 2020 was due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 17th Meeting was held in Venice, Italy, on November 11-20, 1992.

The main decisions of the Meetings until 1995 were called recommendations and since 1996 ATCM measures. They come into force following the ratification procedure by the Consultative Parties. A total of 198 recommendations and 194 measures have been adopted.

Over sixty years, the number of Parties to the Antarctic Treaty has increased from twelve founders in 1959 to 54 in 2019. These include 29 countries in Europe, nine in Asia, eight in South America, four in North and Central America, three in Oceania and one in Africa.

The number of Consultative Parties to the Treaty that have national expeditions in Antarctica keeps on growing: Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Chile, the People’s Republic of China, (South) Korea, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, India, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay and the United States of America.

The remaining 25 Antarctic Treaty countries with Non-Consultative Party status are invited to attend relevant meetings, but are not included in the decision-making process.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the desire to join the Treaty was reinforced by the desire of many countries to develop Antarctica’s biological and mineral resources. Growing practical interest in Antarctica and its resources led to the need to adopt additional environmental documents.

During that period, recommendations for the protection of Antarctica’s nature were adopted almost every year at the Consultative Meetings. They served as starting material for the creation of three Conventions, which protect the natural environment: 1) the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals; 2) the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources; and 3) the Convention for the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources.

Later, based on the recommendations and Conventions adopted, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was drafted. It became an environmental part of the Treaty and was signed on October 4, 1991 for a period of 50 years at the Madrid Consultative Meeting – hence it is also called the Madrid Protocol.

According to the Protocol, Antarctica is declared a “natural reserve for peace and science” and should be preserved for future generations. After 1991, the new countries that adhered to the Treaty started to show interest in participating in large-scale international research projects on global climate change and environmental protection.

Considering the above, Antarctica can be described as a global scientific laboratory: there are about 77 stations on the continent, which have supplied their scientists from 29 countries. They explore the continent itself, the patterns of climate change on Earth and the space itself.

However, how did it happen that the territories of the sixth continent became the target of scientists from all over the world?

In 1908, Great Britain announced that Graham Land (the Antarctic peninsula south of Ushuaia) and several islands around Antarctica were under the authority of the Governor of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands (claimed by Argentina). The reason for this was that they were/are close to the archipelago.

Furthermore, Great Britain and the United States preferred not to acknowledge that Antarctica had been discovered by the Russian explorers Bellingshausen and Lazarev. According to their version, the discoverer of the continent was James Cook, who saw the impenetrable sea ice of Antarctica, but at the same time confidently insisted that there was no continent south of the Earth.

A dozen years later, the appetites of the British Empire grew and in 1917 it decided to seize a large sector of Antarctica between 20° and 80°meridian West as far as the South Pole. Six years later, Great Britain added to its ‘possessions’ the territory between 150°meridian East and 160°meridian West, discovered in 1841 by the explorer Capt. J.C. Ross, and assigned it to the administration of its New Zealand’s colony.

The British Dominion of Australia received a “plot of land” between 44° and 160° meridian East in 1933. In turn, France claimed its rights to the area between 136° and 142° meridian East in 1924: that area was discovered in 1840 and named Adélie Land by Capt. J. Dumont d’Urville. Great Britain did not mind, and the Australian sector was not disputed by France.

In 1939, Norway decided to have a piece of the Antarctic pie, declaring that the territory between 20° meridian West and 44° meridian East, namely Queen Maud Land, was its own. In 1940 and 1942, Chile and Argentina entered the dispute and the lands they chose not only partially overlapped, but also invaded Britain’s “Antarctic territories”.

Chile submitted a request for an area between 53° and 90° meridian West; Argentina, for an area between 25° and 74°meridian West. The situation began to heat up.

Furthermore, in 1939, Germany announced the creation of the German Antarctic Sector, namely New Swabia, while Japan also formalised its claims to a substantial area of Antarctic ice.

Again in 1939, for the first time the USSR expressed – as a premise and postulate – that Antarctica belonged to all mankind. After the end of World War II, all legal acts of the Third Reich were abandoned and Japan renounced all its overseas territorial claims under the San Francisco Peace Treaty. According to unofficial Japanese statements, however, the country claims its own technical equipment: according to its own version, the deposits lie so deep that no one except Japan possesses the technology to recover and develop them.

By the middle of the 20th century, disputes over Antarctica became particularly acute: three out of seven countries claiming the lands were unable to divide up the areas by mutual agreement. The situation caused considerable discontent among other States, and hampered scientific research. Hence it came time to implement that idea, the results of which have been outlined above.

In 1998, the Protocol on Environmental Protection was added to the Antarctic Treaty. In 1988, the Convention on the Management of Antarctic Mineral Resources had also be opened for signature, but it did not enter into force due to the refusal of the democratic Australian and French governments to sign it. That Convention, however, enshrined great respect for the environment, which laid the foundations for the Protocol on Environmental Protection. Article 7 of that Protocol prohibits any activity relating to mineral resources in Antarctica other than scientific activity. The duration of the Protocol is set at 50 years, i.e. until 2048.

Most likely, its period of validity will be extended, but we have to be prepared for any development of events. Earth’s resources are inevitably running out and it is much cheaper to extract oil and coal in Antarctica than in space. So an oxymoronically near distant dystopian future awaits us.

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The Hathras Case, Caste Discrimination in India and International Law

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ILO/A. Khemka

Over six months ago in September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was brutally gang-raped by the “upper-caste” men in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, and a month later succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Delhi. Despite insidious efforts of impunity by the state, the accused were arrested. However, the family including other Dalits in the village continue to experience the endemic of caste discrimination. The village remains divided along the caste lines with “lower-castes” living on the periphery struggling to fight against the pernicious system.

Caste discrimination and violence emanate from the orthodoxy of the Indian caste system that is held as sacrosanct. It refers to the classification of people into four groups or Varnas: the Brahmins on the top, which consists of priests and teachers, followed by the Kshtriyas or the warriors, the Vaishiyas or the merchants and the last group the Shudras considered as outcastes. Shudras traditionally referred to as ‘untouchables’, now collectively known as Dalitsare singularly positioned at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. They are marginalised on the pretext of maintaining status quo in the society and are forced to live under deplorable conditions with little or no access to health, education and sanitation. Their socio-economic vulnerability and lack of political voice increase their exposure to potentially violent situations while simultaneously reducing their ability to escape.

In the similar vein, the question that writ large is, how long would the scourge of the caste system traumatise the Dalit community that makeup16.2% of India’s total population. Being relegated to the bottom of the class, caste and gender hierarchies, they form a majority of the landless labours and manual scavengers and their vulnerability is appropriated by those in power. The reason why the Hathras Case allured a lot of controversies was that the state agencies played an essential role in shielding perpetrators and launching fake propaganda of victimisation. This reaffirmation of the upper-caste hegemony by the state violates the domestic law as well as India’s obligation under International law. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the relationship between caste and racial discrimination against the backdrop of international law.

Hathras Case and Violation of International Law

Violence against Dalits especially women  is used as a tool to inflict political lessons and crush dissents and labour movements for transgressing the caste hierarchies. The Hathras Case of Uttar Pradesh is one of such adversities that reveal a perilous side of the Indian social apparatus and the subsequent pattern of impunity. Despite the constitutional guarantee against any form of discrimination specified under the domestic law and the ratification of international covenants on racial discrimination, gender equality and human rights. Such incidents underscore India’s louche stand against discrimination both nationally as well as internationally.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 1965 as substantiated by India, under its Article -1 states that discrimination based on descent falls under the ambit of ‘racial discrimination’. Hence, applies to matters of caste discrimination also. In the Case of Hathras, there was a serious breach of the convention on various grounds by the police and the government. For instance, the Police did not take cognisance of the rape for eight days after the incident despite the request of the family and was reluctant to help when the victim was taken to the police-station .The family was also exhorted by the district magistrate to change their statement. This misconduct goes against Article 5(a) and Article 5(b)of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which reads that victim should receive equal treatment before the organs administrating justice and must receive protection against violence respectively. Also, the lack of effective remedies provided by the state breaches Article 6 of the convention.

Further, the police allegedly cremated the victim without the involvement of her family members. It breached Article 2, para 2 of the CERD, which obligate state parties to take measures for prevention and enjoyment of human rights. The Government and police wrought an abhorrent pattern of impunity and State-sponsored Propaganda as they adamantly declined to accept if rape was actually committed simply based on the fact that the forensic report revealed the absence of semen in the body of the deceased. This was approbated despite the fact that forensic evidence can only be found up to 96 hours after the incident and that sample for the case was collected after eleven days. Thus, such impunity to the ‘upper caste’ men by the state organs seriously violates Article-2 and 4 of CERD that state shall not discriminate against the victim and condemn any sort of propaganda based on superiority of the caste respectively.

Such deleterious conduct by the state is not only in dissonance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but also tramples upon various instruments of International Human Rights Law especially the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It also grossly violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Dalit Women stand at a point of intersectionality in the society, their subordination and violence unleashed upon them result from both sexual and caste discrimination. Hence, this ‘double jeopardy’ thesis exacerbates their plight.

These actions of the transgression of international law invite state responsibility as codified by the International Law Commission. The Commission elucidates that any such act is attributable to the state if it is committed by State organs, whether central or federal. The International Convention on All the Forms of Racial Discrimination also reflects on the application of domestic law. As Supreme Court of India has held in the case of Karmaa Dojree v. Union of India that the provisions of the Convention are of significance to protect fundamental human rights and must be read into constitutional guarantee against racial discrimination. Thus, what makes the Hathras Case, one of the most controversial cases is the grave violations of international responsibilities and demonstration of ‘upper-class hegemony’ by the state and its agencies.

Caste Discrimination as Racial Discrimination

A major point of contention while ruminating on caste discrimination as racial discrimination is, albeit in the language of international law caste discrimination is seen as the violation of the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, there is an absence of its legal recognition.

In 1996, India for the first time highlighted that the term ‘descent’ mentioned under Article 1(1) of the convention does not cover the domain of caste, thus, schedule castes and schedule tribes in India does not come under its purview. However, CERD in its Concluding Observations(2007) stated that the term ‘descent’ not only refers to ‘race’ but also include discrimination against members of community based on various forms of social stratification. The Human Rights Council in its report conducted by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2009) considered caste discrimination as‘ discrimination based on work and descent’. Likewise, the report of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues (2016) attempted to explicate caste discrimination and emphasised that ‘while many caste-affected groups may belong to the same larger ethnic, religious or linguistic community, they often share minority like characteristics, particularly their non-dominant and marginalised position and the historic use of the minority like framework to claim their rights.’ This informs us that international law categorically view caste discrimination as a segment of racial discrimination. However, India continues to deny the applicability of the term ‘descent’ as inclusive of caste. The lacuna in the recognition of ‘caste’ as a separate identity and India’s denial despite negation is often considered to have a detrimental impact on a significant population of the country.

Caste- based violence similar to the case of Hathras lead to gross breach of international law and yet less often attract state responsibility. This is due to the fragmented legal response and absence of explicit reference to caste discrimination in international law. It is asserted that a comprehensive legal response could help overcome these challenges, not to say that the application of international law would ensure complete protection against caste-based discrimination and violence. But, at least could provide for international solidarity and subsequently better solutions.

Conclusion

The Hathras case of Uttar Pradesh like other similar cases of violence against Dalit women unveils the perennial notion of caste discrimination and the abhorrent pattern of state impunity to the perpetrators. These acts of caste discrimination are strongly condemned under international law, to which India has often reflected on quite evasively. Notably, various international conventions enunciating international law refers to such discrimination as a violation of human rights, albeit have not specifically mentioned it and has continued to reaffirm that discrimination based on descent includes discrimination based on caste. Hence, Dalits face huge challenges at the international level to draw adequate attention to caste discrimination and consequently bear perpetual atrocities at the national level. Therefore, Dalits aspire for international solidarity to consider varying factors of discrimination and a comprehensive legal response to bring caste-based discrimination into international focus.

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International Law

Intellectual Property on Covid-19 needs to be shared

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The development of Covid-19 vaccine was supposed to be a global good which will be fairly distributed among the developed and the developing world. But the politicization and the increasing nationalization of the vaccine increased the vulnerability of the poor countries to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Everyday tens of millions of people are getting infected and tens of thousands of people died in the developing countries due to this deadly virus. Behind each death, there is a story of a loved one, shattered dream of a family and the increasing human insecurity of the members of the deceased. Against such a backdrop, vaccination to all is necessary to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ironically, Covid-19 vaccine has become a new frontier of diplomacy, and a new geo-political tool for some rich countries along with a profit-making tool for some capitalist pharmaceutical companies through the monopolization of the vaccine. All people need to be vaccinated to address the devastating impacts of the deadly virus. The recent example of India clearly shows the deadly outcomes of the Covid-19 virus. Bangladesh, which is one of the densely populated countries, can experience the same devastating outcome as India if all people are not vaccinated as early as possible. In fact, in a country like Bangladesh, where more than 165 million people live within 1, 47, 570 km area, maintaining social-distance becomes really a daunting task.

History suggests that mostly the people in the poor countries die when any pandemic emerges as those poor people have always been deprived of the vaccinations. In this context, the WHO Director-General notes that ‘40 years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life-saving medicines were developed, but more than a decade passed before the world’s poor got access to them. 12 years ago, a new virus emerged and sparked a pandemic. Life saving vaccines were developed, but by the time the world’s poor got access, the pandemic was over’.

The same history is going to be repeated in the case of Covid-19 vaccine. Ironically, rich countries, i.e. the US, UK, EU, Canada have bought more Covid-19 vaccines than they actually need which is making the availability of the vaccine for the poor countries impossible. For instance, the EU has ordered 1.6 billion doses for its adult population of roughly 375 million. According to the order, even after full vaccinations, there will be a surplus of around 525 million full vaccinations. The UK has ordered 219 million full vaccinations for its 54 million adults while Canada has ordered 188 million full vaccinations for its 32 million adults. It means that for UK, there will be a surplus of 165 million full vaccinations while for Canada there will be a surplus of 156 million full vaccinations. The United States did not export even a single dose of vaccine. In one hand, the rich countries are hoarding the vaccines while the poor countries are dying due to lack of vaccinations. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical companies and the Western vaccine producing countries are against the IP waiver of Covid-19 vaccine which is ironic as it is high time to ensure IP waiver of Covid-19 vaccine to save tens of marginalized, poor people in the developing world. Unfortunately, Bill Gates has said ‘no’ to vaccine production in the developing world. Gates preferred the monopoly of the vaccine which described him as a ‘vaccine monster’(Zaitchik, 2021). It is noted that ‘Gates has chosen to stand with the drug companies and their government patrons’ (Zaitchik, 2021). Dozens of developing countries including Bangladesh, India, South Africa are asking repeatedly for the patent waiver so that they can also produce the vaccine and save their population from the deadly pandemic.

In fact, Covid-19 vaccine developed as a global good to save the humanity from the deadly virus. Thus, the dedication and commitment of the scientists to develop the vaccine needs to be appreciated. But when that vaccine is monopolized for some pharmaceutical companies, there is nothing more ironic than that while people are dying in other parts of the world. What an unfair world it is!

In this critical time of Covid-19 global crisis, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Thus, instead of preserving Covid-19 vaccines, rich countries need to ensure vaccines to all in the world irrespective of nationality, colour, creed, or class. This treatable and preventable disease needs to be prevented which requires strong and definitely humanitarian global political leadership. Thus, IP waiver on Covid-19 vaccine, technological sharing and economic cooperation between the developed and developing world becomes necessary to address this pandemic collectively. As Dr Jeremy Farrar warns (April 28, 2021) that ‘If countries who can afford to share choose not to, this pandemic will drag on, resulting in more deaths, suffering and economic hardship. We’re in danger of creating a fragmented, unequal world of haves and have-nots, where it will be far harder to come together and address the shared challenges of this century’.

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