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Can the International Law resolve Egypt Nile River Crisis?

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International Law plays an important role in resolving conflicts among states in the international arena. The conflict between the Nile Basin countries is a struggle over the legality of the Nile water, according to the agreements signed during the colonial era. The Nile Basin crisis is considered an international water law conflict in the regional system which arose recently. Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on the earth, before the emergence of international law and even the international water law (international watercourse), the ancient Egyptians knew the value of the water of the Nile River because their life depends on agriculture.

This paper aims to highlight the importance of the Nile River to Egypt, and the role of the international law in dealing with the Nile’s crisis.

Egypt and the Nile River

The Nile River is one of the most important and the longest rivers in Africa and the world. The Nile River is located in northeast Africa, it flows through many different African states including Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, etc. According to the British Encyclopedia, Nile River stretches 6.695 kilometers, measured from its extreme sources in the plateau of the tropical lakes ( at the farthest point on the Luvironza River, a branch of the Rurubu River in Burundi) to the last point in its estuary in the Mediterranean Sea. Besides, it’s the second largest basin in the African continent in terms of area, it comes after the Congo River Basin, which has an area of approximately 3.82 million square km. After the independence of South Sudan, the Nile River waters are shared by eleven riparian countries in Africa: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo(DRC), Eritrea, and Kenya.

The Nile River has two major tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile begins from Lake No at the point where Bahar al Jabal(river) ends and extends to Khartoum. Thus, the River between Lake No and the meeting point of Sobat River heads from west to east, joining the river at this distance Bahr el Zaraf. The White River in Ethiopia supplies about 14 percent of the Nile’s River water. The second major tributaries of the Nile River is the Blue Nile which begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, it’s 1,840 meters above sea level and an area of about 3,060 square kilometers. The Blue River is undoubtedly the most significant tributary of the Nile River, about one-tenth of the African continent covered by the Blue Nile, and its riparian countries possessing 40 %of Africa’s continent population.

As I mentioned above, the Nile River is of great importance to any country in the world including Egypt. When we mention the Nile River we have to mention the ancient Egyptian civilization, the Nile River has played an important role in shaping the life of ancient Egypt. it’s known that the ancient Egyptian civilization developed along the banks of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians depended upon the Nile River for agriculture and irrigation, so there is no doubt that the Nile River occupies a central place in the lives of Egypt and the Egyptians. The Nile River was worshiped as a God in ancient Egypt, and the ancient Egyptians glorified the Nile.

The importance of the Nile River to Egyptians is that it represents Egypt’s main source of freshwater. Egypt depends entirely on the Nile River for agricultural, industrial and domestic uses. It provides over 96 percent of Egypt’s annual water needs. Besides, the Nile River has taken full control of Egypt’s economics and life. Although Egypt is the first beneficiary of the Nile’s water, there is no source of the Nile River in Egypt and Egypt is one of the downstream countries. Therefore, any shortage in the quantity of water supplied to Egypt has a direct and negative impact on its agricultural and industrial production.

The reason for Nile waters dispute

The struggle over the Nile River waters dated from the colonial era. The reason for the dispute during the post-independence period and until the negotiation process was the rejection by some states of the treaties that signed during the colonial era, such as Ethiopia. But after reaching the principle of an agreement to establish a framework for cooperation, there were some disputes regarding the sharing of the Nile’s waters, and the rule of prior notification or consultation. There were several treaties signed during the colonial era that addressed water allocation in the Nile River that still affects the contemporary negotiations among the Nile Basin countries. Under colonial Britain’s rule, in an effort to secure their interests over the Nile River in Egypt, some treaties stood out; the 1891 agreement, 1929 agreement, and the 1959 agreement.

In 1891, Britain and Italy signed an agreement determining their area of influence in the basin countries in eastern Africa to the outskirts of the Red Sea. Whereas, the third clause in the agreement stipulates that Italy will not construct any works on the Atbara River in order not to impede its flow to the Nile. The fourth article in this treaty focused on protecting the interest of British and Italian nationals in East Africa and supervising the Red Sea corridors more than in the issue of regulating the exploitation of the Nile waters.

On May 15, 1902, a treaty was signed in Addis Ababa between Britain (on behalf of Sudan) and the Ethiopian Empire to demarcate and define the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. In the third clause of the treaty, Emperor Menelik II pledged not to make any attempt to built such a structure on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or Sobat River. In order to ensure the continuity of this treaty, it was stipulated that agreement must be adhered to by both parties and their heirs and those who succeed them to the throne. In this agreement, it explicitly provided for the regulations of the exploitation of the waters of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana and the Sobat River, and the need for prior notification before starting any construction projects by Ethiopia.

During the Egyptian-British bilateral rule of Sudan, Egypt and Britain signed an agreement in 1929. The agreement focused on using the Nile water for irrigation, whereas, in the agreement, Egypt requested to abide by its complete freedom regarding the negotiations that precede the conclusion of an agreement on Sudan. Besides, the agreement also stipulated that Sudan would not build any dam on the Nile and its branches or on the lakes from which the Nile originates, whether in Sudan or the countries under the British colonial rule. Britain agreed to Egypt’s requirements and confirmed the recognition of Egypt’s natural and historical rights to the use of the Nile River waters.

After Egypt gained its independence and with the growth of the population and the increase of the development projects, Egypt wanted to store water for use in agriculture, irrigation and electricity generation, so Egypt started building the High Dam in Aswan, and also Sudan started building projects. The importance of the Nile River between the two countries increased, as a result, the two countries signed an agreement in 1959. The agreement stipulated that Sudan’s yearly water allotment would rise from the 4 billion cubic meters to 18.5 billion cubic meters. The 1959 agreement also recognized the rights of other Nile Basin countries to the Nile waters. According to the agreement, whether any of the Nile Basin countries want to claim their rights, then Egypt and Sudan will negotiate and reach a unified solution. In 1993, Egypt and Ethiopia signed an agreement, and Ethiopia agreed through a framework with Egypt that Ethiopia would not build any structure that may harm Egypt’s interests over the Nile River and impedes the entry of the Nile waters to Egypt, but the agreement was not bound by international law. We can see that the1929 agreement and 1959 agreement affirmed Egypt’s water  rights for the Nile River.

The tension between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile’s water arose in the middle of the twentieth century, particularly, when Ethiopia had announced the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project(GERD) in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary which started in Ethiopia. The goal of the construction of the Renaissance Dam is creating one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plants. However, the construction of the Dam has caused a row between Egypt and Ethiopia. Egypt is upset because the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project will directly and negatively affect Egypt’s interests in the Nile River.

The role of  the International Law

Before examining Egypt’s legal rights on the Nile River, its very important to turn first to the international law. Until the early years of the twentieth century, there were no rules to determine how to use the international river waters among the countries. The relations between countries related to the use of the international river water began to complicate and the conflict among states seemed over how to use the water of the river. So, international law defined some rules and theories in order to regulate the relations among states and the use of  the  shared  waters  between  them.

The theory of Absolute Integrity; this theory does not allow river states to use river water in a way that harms the rights of other river states. Every country whose international river runs in its region has the full right to keep the flow of Nile water in its region without reducing the percentage of water that reaches it. The political borders do not separate the river from its source to its mouth. So, when any country wants to build any structure on the river or its branches, it must first inform the countries that share the same river it with. The theory of Common Natural Resources; this theory was founded on the principle of good neighborliness and aims to the equitable utilization of international river waters between the riparian countries. According to the above theories, Egypt will offer several justifications under international law to support its claim and protect its right in the Nile River. Egypt will argue that the agreement between Britain and Ethiopian Empire which signed in 1902 confirmed that Ethiopia agrees to not take any measure that would harm Egypt’s interests on the Nile River. The treaty also precludes Ethiopia from building any projects that will affect Egypt. Egypt also has argued that 1929 and 1959 agreements between Egypt and Sudan, the agreements imposed a duty on Nile River Basin countries to take measures to prevent causing harm to other states sharing the Nile waters. Its worth mentioning that Egypt has already started diplomatic negotiations to resolve the dispute with Ethiopia, and the last of these negotiations were held in Washington.

Conclusion

The purpose of the international law is to fix the problems and disputes that might arise among states. Nile River crisis is a major dilemma among the Nile Basin countries in the African continent. Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations that developed along the Nile River banks relies on the Nile waters for agriculture, irrigation and industry and so on. Thus, Egypt would justifications under international law (international watercourse) to secure its right over the Nile River.

Amira Ahmed, Ph.D. fellow, School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University, China. Master in Diplomacy.

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International Law

Upholding Dharma by Mob lynching?

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Label any Muslim a cow smuggler, accuse him of carrying beef and then lynch in the name of protecting religion. These premeditated barbaric acts seem to have become the order of the day. According to “Hate Crime Watch”, around 90% of religious hate crimes have occurred after the change of Central government in India in 2014. Although Muslims are victims in 60% of incidents, people from all religious faiths have suffered hate crimes.

India’s constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, but the shattering of social life through mob violence triggers an inescapable sense of powerlessness among its citizens. After the 2015 gruesome Dadri lynching, Mohammad Azam was lynched in July 2018 by a mob in Karnataka after a series of WhatsApp messages had warned locals that child kidnappers were on the loose. The mob assumed that Azam, who worked for Google, and his friends were co-conspirators and lynched him. In 2019, Tabrej Ansari became the first victim of the gruesome hate crime in the second term of the current regime led by proponents of Hindutva. He was lynched by a mob that forced him to chant Hindu religious slogans. In June this year, three people were lynched on suspicion of cattle smuggling in Tripura.

It needs to be recalled that lynching was used to terrorize black community for generations in the United States; blacks were lynched on dubious and false criminal accusations but this was put to an end through NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). In a similar fashion today, there is a growing perception that mob lynching happens with disturbing regularity in India to terrorize not only minorities but also dissenters in the name of religion and culture.

Violence against those who dissent is sought to be rationalized as nationalistic. The killings of Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar and Gauri Lankesh were masterminded by religious bigots masquerading as nationalists. In fact, the recent murder of George Floyd at the hand of a racially bigoted policeman in the United States, and custodial torture and death of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu are hate crimes which are blots on the conscience of democratic societies.

Contemporary India has witnessed a surge in right-wing Hindu extremism, and crimes committed in the name of Love Jihad, beef eating, child kidnapping, cow slaughter and anti-Muslim fake news are aimed at normalizing this disturbing phenomenon. This right-wing propaganda usually spreads like a wildfire on the internet, particularly on the so-called Whatsapp University where it has become quite common to see pictures and videos of dead cows lying in a puddle of blood. It has been noticed that such videos and images on social media platforms are always of questionable veracity whose primary purpose is to incite fear, anger and violence. Very often, the text accompanying the videos appeals that everyone should spread it as much as possible in order for it to reach at the highest political executives. When this damaging and dangerous content is continuously circulated, the resulting fear in the minds of majority community gets converted into hatred toward the minority community.

These are nothing but politically motivated polarizing tactics and diatribes which only feed off pre-existing demeaning stereotypes of minorities. Technology has become an enabler of violence for various political and cultural reasons. There are many parties and stakeholders involved in these hate crimes but victims are only innocent people and invariably from vulnerable socio-economic groups. But the most shameful is the attitude of India’s politicians and police officials who justify these crimes, garland the lynchers, deny it ever happened or shrug off their responsibility by preferring to watch as mute spectators. Even delayed or muted condemnation of communal violence, by those in positions of power, only signal tolerance of such activity. Unfortunately, both the mob violence and the official response to it are symbolic of the Indian state’s rising incompetence in countering religious intolerance.

In recent years, the alarming idea that the ‘nation’ belongs only to the majoritarian community has made global strides as many countries like Poland, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey have come under its sway. Even many long-established democracies, including the United States, are feeling the pressure of this authoritarian tendency. The emergence of Hindu nationalist ideology in India, which is seen as replacing Indian civic nationalism, promotes the notion of a unique national culture grounded in Hindu cultural supremacy. The proponents of Hindu right-wing extremism are trying to radicalize their children and youth with ultra-conservative and fictional thoughts which often re-assert historical prejudices and ungrounded hatred toward Muslims.  

One may be wrong, but cynical indifference shown by the middle class citizens tends to breed servitude and perpetuate complacency. When the victim of mob violence dies a death, shockingly there is no remorse from the crowd. Only the victim’s family remembers the event even as the societal silence is spine chilling. Actually, one should not ignore the performance aspect to mob lynching. Those indulging in mob lynching or public beatings ensure that their acts are recorded and then the potential circulation of such videos is targeted to send a strong message of the majoritarian men terrorizing minority men into humiliation and subjugation.

The dominant mainstream assumptions that cattle slaughter and beef trade directly concerns only Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Christians is also far from reality. Unfortunately, framing of the debates around bovine trade along communal lines has been sustained by provincial media which acts as an echo chamber to propagate Islamophobia. It has also been observed that the messages of hate get intensified after any terror attack, and instigate people to act against specific communities, primarily Muslims.

In July 2018, a landmark judgment given by the Supreme Court had condemned the incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism as ‘horrendous act of mobocracy’, asking the government to enact strict law to counter them. Nevertheless, in spite of comprehensive guidelines and anti-lynching laws in some states such as Rajasthan, Manipur and West Bengal, the mob violence continues unabated. In many states where the right-wings groups feel emboldened such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, there is widespread feeling that the enactment of stringent cattle preservation legislation has further exacerbated such crimes. Those who think that the lynch squad is a thing of the past are wrong.

Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) do not have specific provision dealing with the mob lynching because this was never seen as a crime in India. It is similar to terrorism for which we have the most stringent laws. But mob lynching causes more than just a death; it kills the spirit and substance of democracy. We are told that Hindus and Muslims share the same DNA in India. How can the cold-blooded lynching of one’s brethren make one a hero rather than a murderer? How can a policeman’s lynching and alleged cattle lifter’s lynching possess different form of bestiality? In fact, the time has come to brand mob lynching as ‘domestic terrorism’ and a serious threat to India’s internal security.

Does glory to Lord Rama be restored through unruly mob justice? Does the path to righteousness come through killing innocent people in the name of Cow? Does circulation of derogatory and hateful projection of Muslims bring glory to Hindus? Are those calling publicly for violence against Muslims and Christians are real friends of the Indian State and government? Is not hate crime the prelude to genocide? These uncomfortable questions shake the core of India’s multi-religious and pluralist democracy. India’s timeless civilization has unflinchingly celebrated the foundational principles of humanity such as non-violence, tolerance, peaceful-coexistence and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which is one of the most important moral values engraved in the heart of every Indian. These eternal principles come under violent assault whenever a mob kills an innocent Indian.

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International Law

International Criminal Court and thousands of ignored complaints

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©ICC-CPI

The civil war in Donbass has been going on for more than seven years now. It broke out in 2014, following Kiev’s decision to launch a military operation against the local militia in Donbass, who did not accept the Maidan coup that had happened in February of that same year. More than 10,000 civilians were killed in the conflict.

Correspondent of the French newspaper L’Humanité Vadim Kamenka, French historian Vincent Boulet, as well as a MEP and a member of the Spanish Communist Party Willie Meyer took part in the international conference “Topical Issues of Human Rights Violations in Donbass.”

Moderating the conference, organized by the Society of Friends of L’Humanité in Russia (the French leftist newspaper’s Russian office), was the head of the interregional public organization “For Democracy and Human Rights” Maxim Vilkov.

The conference was also attended by the deputy foreign minister of the Lugansk People’s Republic Anna Soroka, human rights activist Yelena Shishkina, director of the Society of Friends of L’Humanité Olesya Orlenko, and head of Donetsk National University’s department of political science Artyom Bobrovsky.

The participants discussed numerous cases of human rights violations by the Ukrainian security forces and paramilitary units in the course of the civil war in Donbass. The left-minded European participants paid special attention to the fact that none of the 6,000 complaints about the actions of Ukrainian security officials and nationalists had actually been taken up by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Small wonder too, since the atrocities committed in Donbass immediately bring to mind the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s when leftwing antifascists from across the world fought supporters of fascists and Nazis. Let’s not forget that even DW (foreign agent) admits that the share of neo-fascists in Kiev’s Azov regiment is very significant.

The participants called upon the ECHR to pay attention to the non-investigation of crimes committed in Donbass.

Human rights activists and public figures from Russia, France and the unrecognized republics of Donbass called on European international human rights organizations to pay attention to the failure to investigate crimes committed during the armed conflict in Ukraine. This is stated in the statement, which was sent to European international organizations after the conference.

The statement also calls attention to obstacles created to prevent citizens from filing applications to investigate crimes, as well as to attempts to ignore pertinent complaints from international bodies.

The latter, according to the authors of the statement, is especially important since “10,650 applications have so far been submitted to the ECHR concerning violations of citizens’ rights during the civil armed conflict in Ukraine. Of these, 8,000 come from Crimea and Donbass, including 7,000 from Donbass alone. Moreover, 6,000 are complaints made against Ukraine proper. However, during the past seven years, not a single complaint pertaining to the conflict in Donbass has been considered.”

Human rights activists called on the ECHR and the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to ensure that the crimes committed in Donbass are investigated in full compliance with the ECHR and ICC charter, as well as to bring pressure to bear on the political leadership of Ukraine to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights of its citizens.”

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International Law

Crime of Ecocide: Greening the International Criminal Law

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In June 2021, an Independent Expert Panel under the aegis of Stop Ecocide Foundation presented a newly-drafted definition for the crime of ‘ecocide.’ The Panel consisting of 12 international lawyers proposed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be amended to include ecocide as the fifth international crime along with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The inclusion of the crime of ecocide in the Statute will entitle ICC to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of causing grave harm to the environment.

The term ecocide comprises the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning house or environment, and ‘cide,’ meaning an act of killing. Premised upon the term ‘genocide,’ ecocide means the significant destruction of the natural environment by human actions. In 1970, it was first used by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC. The term was further quoted by the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in his opening speech at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm. Since then, multiple efforts were made to include ecocide within international law. Interestingly, it was adopted as an additional crime in the early drafts of the Rome Statute; however, later, it was dropped due to the lack of an adequate definition. If succeeded this time, it will be a significant victory for the environment since none of the existing international criminal laws secures it as an end-in-itself.

Definition of the crime of ecocide

The Panel has defined the crime of ecocide as, “For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

The definition comprises two thresholds that should be fulfilled to constitute a crime of ecocide. Firstly, there should exist a substantial likelihood that the ‘acts’ (including omissions) will cause severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment. In other words, along with the damages causing severe harm to the elements of the environment, such damages must have an impact on a wider geographical location or for an unreasonably longer duration.

It is appreciable that the Panel has widened the scope of the definition by incorporating spatial and temporal dimensions to its meaning. However, they have changed their position adopted in the previous legal instruments to employ a mix of conjunctive and disjunctive formulations in the definition. In addition to its severe nature, such harm could be either widespread or long-term to constitute a crime of ecocide. Thus, any severe and widespread activity, such as chopping down huge rainforests, could be attributed to ecocide. Similarly, any severe activity whose consequences prevail for a longer duration, for example, causing the extinction of a plant or animal species, could also amount to the crime of ecocide.

Instant reading of the first threshold indicates that the ecocide definition might include day-to-day human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damages. It raises a question – Whether humans are environmental criminals? Though, it might be true that most human actions, directly or indirectly, are continuously degrading the ecosystem around us. However, the definition of ecocide is primarily concerned with the large polluters whose irresponsible activities at a massive level are a threat to the environment. Thus, to narrow down the ambit of the definition and identify criminal activities precisely, the Panel added a second threshold, that is, the ‘acts’ causing damage to the environment must be unlawful or wanton.

It means, only when the actions are either prohibited under national or international laws or indicate a reckless disregard for excessive destruction of the environment in achieving social and economic benefits will they amount to the crime of ecocide. The second threshold hints towards an anthropocentric approach of the definition and protects a range of human activities deemed necessary, desirable, and legitimate for human welfare. To determine the lawfulness of the acts, the actions should be seen with their potential social and economic values. The ecocide definition relies upon the principle of sustainable development to balance environmental destruction with human development and prohibits all destructive activities that outweigh their social and economic benefits. It also means that the definition places a ‘limited’ environmental harm outside the scope of the definition, which cannot be avoided for achieving social welfare that includes housing developments or establishing transport links.

The proposed definition is more concerned with the massive instances of environmental damages. It does not consider small ‘necessary’ ecological harms caused by day-to-day human activities. However, it is equally essential these negligible-looking destructive contributions of humans, made in their individual capacity, should not go unnoticed. These small contributions combined with each other also significantly impact the environment in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other hazards. Thus, the reckless human lifestyle is a significant issue and needs to be regulated through some international code of conduct, if not as ecocide.

Undoubtedly, the proposed ecocide definition is a remarkable effort that should be appreciated for multiple reasons. First of all, the release of this definition indicates that the time has come to start penalizing environmental offenders and create deterrence so that such destructive activities can be minimized. It establishes the responsibility and accountability of big corporate houses and political leaders whose regular investments are causing substantial harm to the environment. Moreover, this definition founds its bases upon many core principles and concepts of public international law, international environmental law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. For instance, the principle of no transboundary harm, sustainable development, proportionality, and necessity are aptly referred to in the ecocide definition. Moreover, it also provides a sufficiently broad definition of the term ‘environment’ to primarily include any damage committed towards the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and outer space.

Way Forward

Though the ecocide definition is a significant development, it still has to go a long way to be included in the list of international crimes. For this purpose, any of the 123 member states to the Rome Statute can officially submit the definition to the UN Secretary-General. The proposal has to be accepted for further consideration by the majority of the members through voting. Further, the text will be subjected to debates and deliberations and must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the members. Moreover, the member states need to ratify or accept the proposed text. Only after one year of such ratification or acceptance ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over the crimes of ecocide committed afterward. This entire process can take many years or even decades to get completed. It is also possible that the structure of the current definition might change in due course of its acceptance.

Today, it is unclear that whether this definition will succeed in amending the Rome Statute or not, but what can be said with certainty is that this definition will play a crucial role in building awareness and discourse around ecocide among the governments, corporate houses, professionals, and masses across the globe. With the pressing needs of humans and prevailing threats to the environment, it is the right time that the actions of the offenders should be regulated through the prism of international criminal law.

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