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South China Sea Dispute: In Light of International Law of the Seas

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The South China Sea (SCS) is one of the most disputed sea in the world, with contested maritime claims by Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and China. The geographical location of South China Sea with its proximity with the Strait of Malacca in the West and Pacific Ocean in the East makes it an area of interest as an important water way not only for the regional states but also the hegemonic western states and United States in particular. Over the years China has invested heavily militarily in the region and has also changed the geo-graphical topography of the region to further its claims. While the western powers and United States with the help of international regimes such as United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas 1982 (UNCLOS) and with the help of regional alliances is trying to counter the claims of China on the South China Sea. The SCS dispute depicts an important case study for the students of International Law and this study is aimed to analyze the legalities of the issue in the light of Laws of the Seas as constituted under UNCLOS.

Historical Background

The claims to the territory of SCS dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 CE) Ming Dynasty (1403-1644) during which the water ways under consideration were regulated under the tributary system of the Chinese Empire. Historically China in order to increase its influence over the region and to avoid protracted border skirmishes devised the tributary system according to which the vassal states in the region were given autonomy to carryout trade and transit in the region, while, in return giving tribute to the Chinese emperor, acknowledging China’s dominance, in return China offered gifts and protection to the vassal states. These regulations were in contradictory with the freedom of Navigation and concept of trade by Western states when they entered into the region in search of trade routes by the early 16th Century. During this time period China’s South Sea Region trade was with Funan (present day Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam) dating back to 502-587 CE and further trade and shipping with Malaya City states dating back to 13th Century. The tributary system saw its demise when China suffered humiliating defeat during the Opium Wars of (1839-42 and 1856-60). The tributary systems was replaced with treaties which resulted from the defeat during the Opium Wars.[1]

Figure 1. Territorial Claims in South China Sea

The historical claims drawn by the PRC over the control of SCS territory is based on nine-dash line which refers to the number of lines drawn in the original map to mark the boundaries of China’s maritime claim. These lines were drawn by geographer Yang Huarien in 1949, for the then Nationalist government of China. The geographer Yang’s map consisted of 11-dashes that were vaguely drawn in the SCS region to claim the contested regions of Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal. The two-dashes were removed on the behest of Mao Zedong when he ceded the Gulf of Tonkin to Vietnam in 1952, thus, reducing the total line to nine.[2]

Figure 2. Historical Map Showing 11 Dash Line Claim

Law of the Seas

Law of the Seas is defined as “constitution for the oceans” is a set of legal framework aimed to codify the international rules and laws regarding to the sovereignty of internal waters, territorial waters, sea lanes and ocean resources. The Law of the Seas is codified in the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) in 1982 and came into force in 1994 after being ratified by more than 150 states.

The UNCLOS of 1982 was originally codified from the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I) in 1958 at Geneva. This conference drew upon four conventions relating to the Convention on Territorial Sea and Contagious Zone, Fishing and High Seas Conservation resources and Continental Shelf.[3] These rules regulate the rights of exploiting resources from the region, economic and navigational freedom and right of innocent passage within he maritime domain of an independent and sovereign coastal state. The UNCLOS defines the maritime territorial boundaries of a sovereign coastal state into following categories: 1) Territorial Sea 2) Contiguous Zone 3) Exclusive Economic Zone. 4) High Seas.

1. Territorial Sea

The UNCLOS defines the limit and extent of territorial boundaries for every sovereign coastal state under which it can exploit the fishery and natural resources. The territorial waters extend to 12 nautical miles or approximately 22 km which are represented by baselines drawn beyond the coast or low water line, within this no foreign vessel can pass through and neither a plane can fly-by through the airspace above this area. The rules for establishing the baseline for the territorial seas of a coastal state are inscribed in Articles 5-11,13 and 14 of UNCLOS 1982 and also derives its legitimacy from Article 3 of Convention on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zones of 1958. Moreover, the breadth of the territorial sea from the base line is limited up-to 24 nautical miles.[4]

2. Contiguous Zone

The contiguous zones under the UNCLOS is the region adjacent to the territorial sea of a state in the open seas. The Article 33(1) and (2) of UNCLOS 1982 which are similar to the Article 24 (1) of Convention on Territorial Seas and Contiguous Zones of 1958, defines the legitimacy of the contiguous zones. Under this law the  contiguous zone may not exceed or extend beyond the 24 nautical miles from the low water line or the baselines from where the width of the territorial seas is measured. Contiguous Zones which can be governed by the sovereign coastal state only for exercising the taxation, customs and immigration laws.[5]

3. Exclusive Economic Zones

The Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) which extends to 200 nautical miles or 370 km from the shore line of a state are defined by the Article 56(1) of the UNCLOS of 1982.[6]Within the EEZ a state has exploitative rights to all natural resources and fisheries in the sea, seabed and subsoil areas. A state can regulate but it should maintain the freedom of maritime navigation and over-flight in the region. A sovereign coastal state has right to construct artificial islands and installations within its EEZ for economic purposes. The Articles 62, 69-71 of 1982 Convention further explains that if a state is incapable of exploiting the resources within its EEZ can make arrangements for sharing the region with foreign states by requiring payment from them. 

4. The High Seas

The term high seas signify all the parts of the sea which are not included in the territorial seas and contiguous zones of the states. According to the Article 2 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas that states have freedom to exercise freedom of navigation, trade, fishing, laying submarine cables, pipelines and fly by the high seas freely. The land locked states have right to move freely in the high seas using their flags on the vessels. These rules were repeated in the Article 92 of 1982 UNCLOS.[7]

South China Sea Dispute

The South Chins Sea (SCS) dispute is a maritime claims dispute among various states including China, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. The states dispute over the claims of territorial control, freedom of navigation, fisheries, shipping lines and exploitation of natural resources of oil and gas in the South China Sea region. The disputed territories include various feature in the SCS such as Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Mischief Reefs, Johnson, Hughes, Fiery Cross, Cuarteron, Gaven (North) and Subi Reefs, Scarborough Shoals,  among various continental shelfs and banks.

China over the years has been exercising its influence in the region covered in the nine-dash line and building military bases and structures on the artificial islands in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Thus, maintain an Area Access Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, hampering freedom of navigation of western and especially American naval assets and hegemonic interests in the region. China has maintained a physical presence and claim in the region since late 1950’s. China has carried out various oil exploration and drilling expeditions off the coast of Vietnam near disputed Paracel Islands in SCS which led to a stand-off.[8]

Permanent Court of Arbitration; A  Case Study of Philippines vs China 

On 22 January 2013, Philippines registered arbitral proceeding against China  in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague under the Annex VII of the UNCLOS 1982. According to the statement Philippines pleaded that China has violated its sovereign right of freedom of navigation and jeopardizing its access to maritime entitlements in the South China Sea by extending its territorial claim in the SCS region, creating artificial islands and maintaining excessive presence of surveillance vessels, naval assets and fishing boats in the region.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague over a period of four procedural hearing orders on July 12, 2016 issued the final award to the case. According to the award China had no legal basis for claiming the historic rights to maritime boundaries and resources in the areas falling in the Nine-Dash line. The UNCLOS does not recognize the group of continental shoals, reefs in the Spratly Islands collectively to generate maritime zones. The PCA further ruled that China violated the obligations of maritime safety under the Article 94 of UNCLOS. The arbitral tribunal also gave verdict that the Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef and its adjacent continental maritime features are well within the 200 nautical miles range on Philippines and formulates its EEZ.

The tribunal stated that the Chinese claim originating from various Reefs in the Spratly Islands hold no legitimacy as some reefs such as Mischief and Subi Reefs, Second Thomas Shoal are low tied elevations and have no entitlement of maritime zones. While various shoals such as Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef and Fiery Rock although under Article 121(1) of UNCLOS are high-tide areas of land surrounded by water. But they are categorized as rocks which are uninhabitable and do not generate any maritime zone claim under the Article 121(3) of UNCLOS of 1982. The PAC also ruled that China was unable to protect and preserve the maritime environment in the region and its naval and commercial activities in the region have violated the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea.[9] The tribunal further said in its award that China has violated the Articles 123, 192, 194(1), 194(5), 197 and 206 of UNCLOS by building artificial islands on the Cuarteron, Fiery Cross and Johnson, Hughes, Subi, Mischief, Gaven Reefs. Thus, the tribunal gave the verdict in the favor of the Philippines, which China refused to accept and released a White Paper stating that China would solve the issues bilaterally and pressed on its historical claims on the SCS region.[10]

China-Vietnam Oil Rig Standoff

China’s emerging economy and growing industrial infrastructure is dependent readily upon the oil and gas energy resources. As China lacks abundant natural oil and gas resources in its mainland and is dependent upon Middle Eastern, Gulf and African states to sustain its energy needs. The energy security of China has also increased as bulk of its energy resources transit through the congested straight of Malacca and disputed South China Sea. On May 1st, 2014, China’s state owned China National Offshore Oil Cooperation (CNOOC) oil-rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) along with three other oil and gas service ships were detected by Vietnam in the disputed SCS region claimed by Vietnam. The oilrig was deployed 120 nautical miles from Ly Son Island in the East of Vietnam and 180 nautical miles South of China’s Hainan province. Due to disputed territorial claims the rig feel in between the hypothetical boundaries of both China and Vietnam.[11] China claimed that the rig was deployed to conduct exploratory drilling and survey of the region and straddled upon hydrocarbon rocks in the region up till 15th August of that year. China further established a parameter of 1 nautical mile and prohibited any naval vessel movement in the area. Vietnam in order to intercept and disrupt the oil rig from establishing a fixed position dispatched six of its coast guard and surveillance vessels. China in order to protect its oil expedition vessels deployed forty naval, coast guard and civilian fishing ships.

Over the coming days the standoff between both states tensed with increase in deployment of naval ships. The incidents of ramming increased as China deployed over 130 naval vessels and aircrafts. While, people started riots across Vietnam and took to streets, various cases of vandalism were reported against Chinese businesses and six Chinese citizens were killed during the riots. China increased its military presence across the border regions also near the Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. After a high-level delegation from Chinese side visited Hanoi on June 18 and the oil rig moved to the North-Eastern region of Triton Island after the official claims of completion of its exploration. On July 15, CNOOC announced that its has withdrawn its oil rig as its endeavor has been completed a month ahead of the scheduled time period.

The stand-off between the two states showcased the limit to which China could take risks to establish its influence and demonstrate its hegemony over the SCS region. Although, Chinese leadership may have not apprehended the Vietnam’s resolve and accepting risks for a sustained period of time.

China-Malaysia Standoff

The most recent incident among the series of confrontation and disputes emerged when China and Malaysia standoff initiated in mid-April 2020 and lasted for a month till May 15, 2020. These latest turn of events started when Chinese survey vessel Dizhi-8 along with escort of Chinese coast guard ships drifted closer to a Malaysian drillship West Capella which was contracted by state owned Petronas oil firm in EEZ claimed by China, Malaysia and Vietnam in SCS. This standoff is also significant as during the unfolding of events US and China both maintained a constant military presence near the disputed area. US had deployed its guided missile cruiser, USS Bunker Hill and an amphibious assault vessel USS America in the region. US further displayed an excessive use of force as USAF B-52, B-1B Lancers conducted sorties along with EP-3E, P-3C Orion, P8-A Poseidon, RC-135W Rivet joint  reconnaissance planes not only over the SCS region but also over Taiwan Strait and East China Sea.[12] These events intensified and heated the already tensed region as both sides frowned at each other and remain locked eyeball to eyeball with each other for over a month. US maintained its claims of Freedom of Navigation (FoN) while challenging China’s assertiveness in the SCS, meanwhile, China during the unfolding of these events restrained itself from any engagement and withdraw from the region on May 15, 2020.[13] While, China afterwards in show of force initiated a month long naval exercises in July 2020 where it also deployed its indigenous Shandong Type 002 aircraft carrier.[14] Following which US carried out its largest naval drills comprising of three strike groups comprising of USS Nimitz, USS Ronal Regan and USS Theodore Roosevelt participated accompanied by cruiser, guided missile-destroyers in a show of force sending a strong message to Beijing.[15] Thus, the most recent strategic movements come at a time when the major powers were engaged in a volley of tariff war, uncertain health and economic system amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The issuance of flexing military muscles and assertion of dominance while defying international norms by China and reassertion of the status quo by the US has become a norm in the region, posing threat to international system.

China’s Approach of Expansion and Cooperation

Over the years China has gained sufficient economic power and has now been exercising its national interests using soft power. The Asia Pacific states which have been used by the West and mainly US to contain China in the region and various Quadrilateral alliances such as between US, India, Japan, Australia which emphasize upon naval and maritime cooperation and increase in freedom of navigation missions in the SCS to counter the Chinese claims. Similarly, renaming of Pacific Command of US Navy to Indo-Pacific Command also signifies the American aims and interests in the region towards countering the Chinese naval expansion in the region. The region has witnessed various aggressive maneuvers at sea and in the air between the military assets of both China and the US in the SCS. US with its immense naval resources, increasing in frigates, destroyers, anti-submarine warfare assets, and nuclear submarines in the region, has been facing challenges to its hegemony and freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea in the face of increasing Chinese naval presence. China has been to strengthen its control over the SCS has created artificial islands by dredging and landfills and established military bases over them.[16]

For furthering its interests in the SCS region China has been engaging into economic cooperation with the SCS states. It has proposed to carry out joint initiatives for oil and natural resources exploration with Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei. China has been working on the framework of developing Code of Conduct for SCS through the framework of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to overcome the territorial disputes. China’s policy of economic cooperation is shifting the geo-political dimensions in the South China Sea region which is a blow to the Western policy and hegemony. China’s continual defiance towards the international laws and regulations are also evident to the increasing Chinese power and weakening of the international regimes which are losing power to enforce their authority.[17]China is shaping the international law to its own liking and has been strategically investing into research and scholarly works to prioritize its national interests. US has to organize and gather regional and international support if it wants to force China to abide by the international law.[18]

Conclusion

The contemporary world order is defined by the western international regimes that govern and regulate the behavior of the states. International Law is defined to establish a recognized obligation framework under which states are compelled to operate. Evidently the norms and premise of the international law are being weakened and challenged as the emerging powers such as China has been playing around the international law. The revocation of UNCLOS in SCS by China in recent history is an evident example of this changing behavior and deterioration of the international norms. China has over the years attained significant economic muscles and to further its economic viability it is dependent upon the free transit of its oil and trade vessels through the South China Sea region until its Belt and Road Initiative is not matured. To counter the challenges it face in the South China Sea and beyond with increasing presence of US naval assets and alliances in the region China has to take resolute steps to maintain its territorial presence in the South China Sea and beyond. China has successfully sustained the pressures from international regimes and laws thus signifying the weakness and changing of the world order. The legitimacy of the international regimes has been challenged by the Chinese defiance and the US is gaining on and investing in establishing alliance in the region to counter and contain the Chinese influence. The US can resort to coercive actions as a last resort to maintain its weakening hegemonic stature, while, China is trying to avoid any direct conflict but at the same time is manipulating the International regimes in its favor by enhancing economic cooperation.


[1]Daniel Wei Boon Chua, “China’s History and the South China Sea,” Asia Dialogue, March 6, 2017, https://theasiadialogue.com/2017/03/06/chinas-history-and-the-south-china-sea/, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[2]Ben Black, “The South China Sea Disputes: A Clash of International Law and Historical Claims,” Penn StateJournal of Law and International Affairs, March 22, 2018, https://sites.psu.edu/jlia/the-south-china-sea-disputes-a-clash-of-international-law-and-historical-claims/, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[3] Peter Malanczuk, Akehurst’s Modern Introduction to International Law (New York; Routledge, 1997) p. 173

[4] Ibid, 182-183.

[5] Ibid, 184.

[6]Robin R. Churchill, “Law of the Sea International Law (1982),” Britannica, December 8, 2006, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Law-of-the-Sea#accordion-article-history, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[7] Malanczuk, 185-186.

[8]Michael Green, Kathleen Hicks, Zack Cooper, John Schaus And Jake Douglas, “Counter-Coercion Series: China-Vietnam Oil Rig Standoff,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, June 12, 2017. https://amti.csis.org/counter-co-oil-rig-standoff/, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[9]The South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of Philippines v. The Peoples Republic of China), Permanent Court of Arbitration, https://pca-cpa.org/en/cases/7/, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[10]PTI, “China releases white paper, reasserts claim over South China Sea,” Economic Times, July 13, 2016, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/china-releases-white-paper-reasserts-claim-over-south-china-sea/articleshow/53187848.cms, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[11]Green, Hicks, Cooper, Schaus, Douglas, Jun, “Counter-Coercion Series: China-Vietnam Oil Rig Standoff,”  (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[12] “Two US warships in South China Sea amid China-Malaysia standoff,” Aljazeera, April 21, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/warships-south-china-sea-china-malaysia-standoff-200421055333993.html

[13] Rozanna Latiff, “Chinese ship leaves Malaysian waters after month-long South China Sea standoff,” Reuters, May 15, 2020,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-security-malaysia/chinese-ship-leaves-malaysian-waters-after-month-long-south-china-sea-standoff-idUSKBN22R1SN

[14] “China to hold military drills in South China Sea,” BBC News, July 4, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36700583

[15] “US Sends Stern Message To China; Deploys 3 Aircraft Carriers In South China Sea,” Eurasian Times, June 13, 2020,  https://eurasiantimes.com/us-sends-stern-message-to-china-deploys-3-aircraft-carriers-in-south-china-sea/

[16]Black, “The South China Sea Disputes: A Clash of International Law and Historical Claims,” (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[17]Mercy A. Kuo, “The Geopolitics of Oil and Gas in the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/12/the-geopolitics-of-oil-and-gas-in-the-south-china-sea/, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

[18]Lynn Kuok, “Countering China’s Actions in the South China Sea,” August 1st, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/countering-chinas-actions-south-china-sea, (Accessed on May 11, 2019).

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The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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The term dictators & demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts but there’s a difference, the former rules over a totalitarian state where government is able to exercise a complete influence over every aspect of citizen’s life whereas the latter is a “wannabe dictator” but due to the system of checks & balance in place they’re are not fully capable to create police states.

In 21st century these flamboyant  demagogues  have adjusted their personality & politics in such a way  that they successfully hide their intent & action in the shadows of democratic system so unlike Hitler’s Fascist regime or North Korea’s Communist dictatorship, it’s difficult to held them accountable because they’ll try to justify their hasty & unreasonable decision  in the name of Constitution & larger public good.

There are some common qualities shared by populist demagogues in  democratic countries that need to be checked in all seasons to protect the country & its people from potential benevolent dictators.

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

The rabble-rousers of the modern era have smartly learnt from their predecessors that to stay in power for eternity, it’s important to curb & limit the functions of Independent Institutions like Courts, Central Bank, Auditory Bodies, Investigation Agencies etc. For instance the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan has almost destroyed judicial independence in the country & with the recent news about the call of his political ally to shut down Turkey’s Constitutional Courts is not just alarming but also a cause of concern in a country where a record number of journalists are serving jail sentences under false charges & this decision if taken will not just compromise the press freedom which is already at its nadir in Turkey but it’ll also weaken the capacity of judicial system to guarantee the protection of people’s rights.

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

Demagogues keep reminding us about the ancient prosperity & always pushing the narrative to portray their   country as the leading force , it can be done via 2 ways, either promote the soft power like culture, tradition, civilization & spirituality or use even nasty tricks to pull out the blinded nationalism that includes portraying one’s country as the leading colonizer, telling people about invaders & portray them as protector of native civilization or use race theory to create a class divide in society like Hitler did by invoking the Aryan identity that made some people into believing that they are superior to others.

By inciting this false hope of regaining the past glory & branding slogans like “Make America Great Again”, “For us, Hungary First”, “Abki bar, Modi Sarkar” they deceit & manipulate people into voting for their parties without doing any substantive work on the ground.

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

Dissent or criticism of the leader & its establishment is part of a healthy Democratic society where people are fundamentally free to express their views regarding the government’s policies. While delivering a lecture on the topic,” The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism,” the Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud noted that ” Descent is the safety valve of a democracy”  but sadly the Modern day Niro of India who ironically belongs to the same State where this lecture was being delivered has left no stone unturned to deliberately cut this valve into pieces.

Critics & Human Rights Activists are put behind bars for raising their voice against the atrocities & crime inflicted on tribals, minorities & other vulnerable sections of society. They are mercilessly beaten, tortured, thrashed & maimed in solitary confinements making no exceptions for maintaining basic human decency that is expected from the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

4. Polarisation for winning elections

The gruesome killing of George Floyd by White male police officer sparked a global outrage & protests against the racial inequality & hate crime that is at its highest level in more than a decade. People demanded accountability & change to stop the Institutionalised & Systemic racism against the people of color in the United States. Ex-president Trump instead of calling out & condemning white supremism  (terrorism) has defended & even embraced this far right radical ideology of hate.

As per the report by V-Dem, there’s an upsurge in political polarisation in India since 2014 when BJP seize the power at Centre & this is evident by frequent incidents of mob-lynching, riots & attacks on minorities especially muslims & Dalits in India. This report further states that Freedom of Religion has seen a considerable decline under the current regime. The reason behind these precipitous decline is the rise of Hindutva Politics which was long gone, forgotten & buried in the coffin but the BJP has called out the jinn of hatred to sway elections after elections at the cost of people who want to live a peaceful life in a non-hostile environment.

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

Politics was always a dirty business but populist leaders in most democracies have stooped to a new low & ruined it further. They never shy away from using homophobic & sexiest slurs or passing derogatory remarks against their counterparts in other parties.

Take for instance Brazilian President Bolsonaro, a nutcase who revokes popular prejudices in his ugly campaign rhetoric by passing many offensive & utterly distasteful comments against women, gays, environmentalists & minorities.

The rise of retro-macho politics has left no space for political sobriety & if unchecked, the tumor of hypermasculinity will not be just limited to hate speeches & jibes but translate into formidable action against humanity.

That’s how Romanian dictator Ceaușescu turned his political rhetoric into dystopian reality, under his dictatorship, birth control was banned, abortion was outlawed & fetus was declared the “property of society”, so women were tested for pregnancy & monitored to make sure that they give birth, and punished if they failed.

6. Refusal to accept migrants from Impoverished & war-torn countries

This is the hypocrisy of Western States who for decades have waged war, supported regime change, imposed Economic sanctions & trade barriers, sold weapons to militants in Middle-eastern & African countries finally when refugees & immigrants are arriving at the European borders from these destabilized countries where anarchy has bolstered civil war & complete chaos after covering an extremely dangerous route & taking enormous risks such as relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas, they were detained & locked up under inhumane conditions in shipping containers in Hungary at whims & fancies of  Hungarian government headed by ultra-right wing Viktor Orbán but after the European Union Court ruling last year, Hungary has finally shut-down these illegal migrant transit zones situated on its border with Serbia, at the same time tightening rules which will effectively bar future migration prospects in EU member states.

7. Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change is the biggest threat to human existence in the 21st Century. Earth’s Climate is now changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as the result of human activities. It needs to be understood that Climate Change is not just a science issue but a policy issue as well. In most of the countries where demagogues are in-charge the policy seems to be more destructive, anti-science & discredit the scientific studies that show that effects of Climate Change are horrific & destructive for the Planet.

The environmental policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil have put the Amazon Rainforest on the verge of extinction. Regarded as the “lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon acts as a giant carbon sink & is also responsible for driving rain patterns across South America & Africa. Leaked documents revealed that Bolsonaro has cynical plans for Amazon Rainforest that includes hydroelectric plants, construction of bridges on Amazon river & a proposed highway through the dense forest to integrate Amazon basin with the rest of the National territory.

Under pressure from the Biden Government, Bolsonaro is now promising to make Brazil Carbon neutral by 2050 but his Environmental minister has asserted that his country is ready to cut 40 percent of deforestation in Amazon Forest only if the International Community will provide $1Billion as assistance. Though It is highly unlikely that the Brazilian government will take any steps against the influential farming lobby that played an important role in the victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 & to whom he has promised to dismantle existing environmental protections to make way for agricultural land expansion and intensified production.

The rise of populist leaders in  democratic countries is not sudden, before seizing power they boastfully promise to set their country free from corruption, crime & socio-economic inequality but after winning election they shift their goal post to achieve sinister objectives. Electoral political system in a democracy needs an urgent overhaul to include an educated perspective rather than simply representing the

will of majority which is no less than tyranny & this could only happen if people(voters) are aware about fascism among themselves & what  does it take for a normal country to become a Nazi State that had turned itself on the path of ravage & destruction. The importance of self realisation & tumultuous past is aptly described in a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his classic book, For whom the Bell tolls “But are there not many fascists in your country?’ There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes“.

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OTT broadcast and its censorship: Whether a violation of freedom of speech and expression

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The whole world, owing to coronavirus pandemic, is enveloped in the darkness. It has wreaked havoc on almost all the aspect of human lives. The educational institutions, theaters and cinemas all have been shuttered. Public gatherings, to maintain the social distancing, have been firmly discouraged. Further, the pandemic has significantly modified the media and entertainment consumption patterns. Social lives ventured into digital environment as a result of people being cramped to their homes. People have switched to several sources of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes and over-the-top (“OTT”) platforms have proven to be a major source of entertainment.

OTT platforms have grown exponentially and taken over the industry. OTT platforms expedites streaming of video content over the web. Several OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, etc., have primarily ousted the traditional television service. The notification issued by the Central Government of India aimed at getting online media platforms and content on OTT platforms within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been making the rounds in recent times. The cabinet Secretariat, on November 9, 2020, released a notification amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. It has incorporated two new entries to the second schedule of the Rules namely Films and Audio-visual programmes provided by online service provider as well as News and Current Affairs. This action is attributed to the fact that there is large amount of an unrestricted content available on the web as well as lack of an adequate regulatory regime in place to protect its users.

Universal self-Regulation code

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a Universal self-Regulation code (code) to administer the content available on OTT platforms. The code was primarily adopted by the fifteen OTT platforms namely zee 5, Viacom 18, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree. SonyLIV and Lionsgate too have recently signed the code. It was manifestly stated in the code that The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) is the main governing framework when it comes to online content. The values enshrined in Article 19 of India’s Constitution, namely the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, direct the internet and material on the internet. A policy for the digital content sector has to be drafted in line with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any constraints on the aforesaid right should be fall within the purview of constitutional restrictions set forth in Article 19(2) of the India’s Constitution.

Further, the code had delineated a mechanism pertaining to (i) Age Classification (the code had particularized the certain categories for standardized age classification namely All ages, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+) (ii) Appropriate content specification ( a content descriptor appropriate to each piece of content that demonstrates and tells the viewer about the essence of the content while also advising on viewer discretion) and (iii) Access control Tools( to regulate access to content, signatories to the Code may implement technological tools and measures for access control i.e. PIN/Password.) The code had also established the perspicuous grievance redressal and escalation process to lodge complaint regarding non-adherence to specified guidelines. The MIB, however, has repudiated the proposed code since it did not explicitly categorize the prohibited content. Further, there is no independent third-party oversight and a transparent code of ethics. The MIB instructed IAMAI to seek guidance from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) self-regulatory frameworks.

A public interest litigation was consolidated in October, 2018, before the hon’ble Delhi High court by Justice For Rights Foundation to draught certain guidelines for modulating the content available on OTT platforms. The MIB while filing the counter affidavit stated that digital platforms are not required to procure a license from them to exhibit their content and the same is not controlled by them. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has also mentioned that they do not oversee internet content and there exists no mechanism for monitoring or licensing an agency or establishment that posts content on the internet. Nevertheless, it was claimed that the provisions concerning IT are applicable, and concerned legislative authority having jurisdiction under the aforesaid Act is authorized to take action using the power granted to them under section 69 of the Act which involves directives for interception, surveillance, or data encryption. Further, under Section 67 of the Act there are penalties pertaining to posting or disseminating obscene information in any digital form. Accordingly, the court while dismissing the petition opined that it cannot grant a mandamus for the creation of regulations when the IT Act already contains stringent restrictions and currently the foregoing petition is pending in the hon’ble supreme court.

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

A film must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before it can be displayed or distributed in cinemas or on satellite, and the content is constrained by existing laws. The CBFC was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. When it was established, it was designated as the Board of Film Censors. It was amended in 1959 to give it the authority to certify a picture for mass consumption. The Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994 are among the laws that govern the industry. However, there is no such particular legislation for regulating material on OTT platforms. The government by virtue of Article 19(2) of Indian constitution can impose restrictions on freedom of speech and expressions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality and so on. Consequently, broadcasted content has often been a restricted matter. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another[1], the constitutionality of censorship was initially challenged. The hon’ble supreme court has upheld the constitutionality of censorship under Article 19(2) of the India’s constitution and stated that films must be viewed differently from any kind of art and expressions because a motion picture can elicit more intense emotional response than any other product of Art. However, such censorship should not be exercised to imposed an undue restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

The constitutionality of censorship was also disputed in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [2]wherein the hon’ble supreme court has held that the board’s criterion for appraising the films must be that of an ordinary man with common sense and wisdom rather than that of a hypersensitive mind. The Moral values ought not to be compromised in the realm of any social change. The concept of “Dharam” should not be disrupted by the immoral norms or standards. However, it does not suggest that censors must embrace a conservative perspective. They should be resilient to social change and go with the topical environment. The film is the most legitimate and significant medium for addressing topics of public concern. The producer has the right to broadcast his own message, which others may or may not concur with. The state, regardless of how hostile to its policies, cannot suppress open debate and expression. The democracy is basically a government by the people based on open debate. The democratic form of administration necessitates citizens’ active and informed engagement in the societal issue.

Furthermore in, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification[3], it was said that we are governed in a democratic manner. We can’t expect everyone’s head and intellect to be the same in a democracy. Freedom to think and act in a different way is at the heart of democracy. The beauty of democracy is the diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and manifestations. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to exhibit themselves in the same way. In the film business, new blood is being infused. This new blood is revved up and eager to get their feet wet in the industry. The film business and the general public have embraced such new blood. Their effort has been recognized and praised by the government. These works are predicated on a certain way of thinking that is unique to them. They have their own opinions and ideas on how the film business should operate, as well as how the medium altogether must be managed. Profanity, obscenity, and depravity do not shock human emotions. Such situations and discussions must be seen in their entirety. The narrative must be perused in its totality and thought upon. It is not appropriate to choose a few phrases, lines, conversations, or situations and venture into the board’s resolution. Certainly, the state, and notably the Central Board of Film Certification, cannot attempt to sculpt and dominate public opinion under the guise of purported public interest or audience preference. That would be terrible, as it would hit at the heart of democracy and civil liberty, which are held in such high regard by everybody. The goals of film certification, consequently, cannot be achieved by disregarding the Constitutionally guaranteed right or by fully undermining and disappointing it. A movie has to be watched on its own and judged accordingly. The plot, subject, background, and location in which it is created, the message it aims to express, and the entertainment, among other things, would all have to be assessed using section 5B’s standards.

Should OTT platforms be governed by a code of self-regulation?

Self-regulation is presently the only option available to such platforms in order to maintain the ability to broadcast material without undue censorship. Because unreasonable restriction would impede the creative flexibility of OTT platforms. It will assist platforms in conducting themselves in an ethical and fair manner while also safeguarding the interests of their users. It would protect content producers’ artistic freedom by promoting creativity and upholding an individual’s right to free speech and expression. The general public desires to view the content in its original and untainted state. They strive to understand artwork in its most primitive sense. The fundamental role of government agency is to maintain the fair field, not to inhibit innovation and ingenuity by placing limitations in a tech industry.

Self-regulators’ competence allows them to adjust their regulations more quickly than government agencies in reaction to technological advancement. More significantly, independent of any technological change, the self-regulator is better equipped to decide when a rule should be modified to improve compliance. Self-regulation has the ability to make compliance more appealing. It develops regulations based on an expert’s level of understanding, customized to the specific sector. These rules are viewed by regulated entities as more “reasonable” from the inception owing to their involvement[4].

Conclusion

The MIB by virtue of the amendment has now can regulate and draught policies regarding digital media and online streaming on OTT platforms. However, such governmental intervention can considerably jeopardize the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The suppression of freedom of speech and expression is what censorships is all about. The freedom of speech and expression suggests that right to manifest one’s thought via words of mouth, writing, picture and any other means. The freedom of speech is one of the most well-known and fiercely protected civil rights against government encroachment. In modern democratic societies, it is generally considered as an essential notion. Every citizen of a democratic nation has the freedom to express his or her opinions on various issues. Thousands of viewpoints are disseminated around the country via various channels. A film director has the freedom to manifest himself and gives effect to his thoughts, even though others may not concur with him. An exhibition of films as well as documentaries cannot be prohibited for purely speculative reasons since prohibiting motion pictures is tantamount to suppressing the right to freedom of expression and speech. Restrictions upon Individual’s freedom of speech and expression must only be permitted if they are required to avert severe harm from being perpetrated. It is critical to have a healthy and extensive amount of free expression in order to assert a thriving and well- functioning democracy. Democracy, otherwise, is obsolete and akin to a totalitarian dictatorship[5]. It should be up to the public to determine what they want to see and what they don’t want to watch. Thus, the cornerstone to safeguarding artistic freedom is a sustainable self-governance paradigm.


[1] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780

[2] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 S.C.C. 574

[3] Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification 2016 S.C.C. online Bom 3862: (2016) 4 AIR Bom R 593: AIR 2017 (NOC 62) 29

[4] Id. at 13

[5] Subhradipta Sarkar, RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN A CENSORED DEMOCRACY, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER SPORTS

 AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW JOURNAL 62, 84 ,89 (2009)

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall of Kabul, and the evasion of President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has taken over the reins of Afghanistan. States like Pakistan and China have already expressed their willingness to “work with the Taliban”  thereby legitimizing the Taliban government, whereas India has refused to recognize this “reign of terror”. The jurisprudential question of legitimacy arises here because the transfer of power in Afghanistan was through a coup d’etat which constitutes an extra-constitutional means of formation of government. Governments desire legitimacy because it gives them the right to rule and an acceptance on the international and domestic levels.

The most accepted theory in this regard is Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law. Kelsen, a positivist, claimed that law was contaminated by sociological impurities and morality, and focussed his theory on law alone. He based the legitimacy of the new order of government on its efficacy, and a rule was said to be efficacious when individuals regulated by it “behave, by and large, in conformity” with it. When the new order was efficacious, the coup was said to be successful, and the new government was held to be a legitimate one. Kelsen’s theory was widely accepted to uphold governments after coups such as in The State v. Dosso (Pakistan; 1958), Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (Southern Rhodesia; 1968), and Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (Uganda; 1966), among others. Since Kelsen tries to purify laws from the socio-political aspects, he contends that that it is irrelevant why people comply with the law and it could even be out of pure fear. Thus, a rogue government such as the Taliban which is efficacious as it receives compliance out of coercion and not out of consent, would be a legitimate one from a Kelsenian perspective.

The primary criticism that arises to Kelsen’s separability thesis is that he fails to distinguish between validity of law and its legitimacy. Critics have argued that while validity of law concerns with its authoritativeness, legitimacy depends on the virtue of justness and is contingent upon socio-political and moral factors. The issue lies with attaching legitimacy to the performance of the government. Instead, legitimacy should involve the questions of whether the government has the ability to demand the obligations out of voluntary conviction, provide for public goods such as the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, etc., and function in a manner such that the society is generally benefitted. A study on legitimacy in seventy-two countries concludes that more the citizens are treated as rightful holders of political power, more legitimacy the government derives. This means that the virtue of legitimacy must flow from the citizens and the society and not from a coercive power that the top-down approach provides.

In the light of this, when the Taliban government is examined, it is realised that with its extremist ideology and terror activities in the past, it can hardly fulfil this criteria.While the ‘good Taliban’ has claimed that it will protect the freedom of press and not discriminate against women while allowing for their participation in the society within framework of Islamic law, these assurances will pacify only those who are unfamiliar with its history. Under the rule of Taliban in the years between 1996 and 2001, human rights were suspended, and political killings, rape, torture, amputation, and public executions were common place. A Taliban 2.0 which has emerged victorious against one of the major superpowers of the world, and has external support is unlikely to reform. Ideologically, they still remain the same movement committed to a puritan interpretation of Islam and this is evidenced by the fact that the barbaric Sharia law is in place once again. These baseless claims should be perceived as a political strategy to appease states into granting them de jure legitimacy because despite the jurisprudence of legitimacy developed, there is nothing in the international law that bars states like China, Russia, Pakistan or others from recognizing the rogue state of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan rests in the interplay of international actors.

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