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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obstacles to Effective Implementation

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

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

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

Chagossians Resettlement and Reparations.

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

The Fate of Diego Garcia and its Nuclear Weapons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Risks in the Indian Ocean Region

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

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

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

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

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

Mauritius Needs a Plan to adapt to Global Climate Change.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Ashley is a law student in California. She is studying public international law and public interest law and policy. Ashley enjoys writing about international law, human rights, sovereignty disputes, and self-determination.

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International Law

Omicron and Vaccine Nationalism: How Rich Countries Have Contributed to Pandemic’s Longevity

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In a global pandemic, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe”, – it is more of true with respect to the current globalized world system. It is said that crisis strikes the conscience and forces the ‘commonality of purpose’ on one another- and a major one in magnanimous scale. But the current Covid-19 crisis seems to have emerged in oddity with this very axiom, of course, due to self-serving, in WHO’s words- ‘self-defeating’ and ‘immoral’, approaches to dealing the pandemic by wealthy countries.

 A new and potentially more transmissible variant of Covid-19 virus, named Omicron by WHO, has been detected in South Africa. With scientists yet to be confirmed about new variant’s epicenter and its likely implication on human immune system, the emergence of Omicron has brought the long-warned case of ‘vaccine nationalism’– a phenomenon in which each nation prioritizes securing ample doses without considering impact on poor ones- to light.

Unheeded to the repeated warnings by scientists and pandemic specialists, many of the world’s richest countries had embarked on a vaccine-acquisition frenzy and hoarded jabs more than their requirements. Some countries have even gone to the extent that they had acquired up to four times what their population needed. Thereby, it has left majority of poor and developing countries, particularly those in global south, unvaccinated, with further risk of the virus being muted into more virulent variants, as in the case of Omicron.

A simple numerical data over vaccination rate across the world exposes the grotesques picture of pandemic recovery divide among the countries and immoral hoarding and hedging efforts on vaccine supplies by wealthy countries. As of now, whereas only 3% of people in low income countries have fully been vaccinated, the figure exceeds 60% in both high-income and upper-middle –income countries. In Africa, the most under-vaccinated and the epicenter of ominous Omicron, only some 7% of its 1.3 billion people are fully immunized.

Given the 9.1bn vaccines already manufactured and 12bn expected by the end of this year, the question is- why does vaccination effort remain so discriminatory and dividing across the regions? The answer, in most part, lies in the ‘pervasive economic inequity’ inherent in initial vaccine-acquisition process. With their enormous capacity to pay out, rich countries, even before pandemic took devastating hold, had pursued a ‘portfolio-approach’ in investing on vaccine development research by pharmaceutical companies- simultaneous investment on multiple ones. In exchange, those countries stroke bilateral deal with each drag company to secure enough prospective vaccine doses to inoculate their respective population several times over.

This absolutist vaccine-acquisition drive of wealthy nations had substantially thwarted the holistic approach taken up by World Health Organization(WHO) under the platform of COVAX, a vaccine sharing program. With the aim of reducing the delay in vaccine allocation to poor and developing countries, and thus ensuring vaccine equity, the multilateral platform didn’t get enough incentives from wealthy ones, since started its journey in April 2020. Both investment and acquisition by well-off countries, having bypassed the COVAX, kept them into the front of manufacturing line, thereby, contributed to the distributional injustice.

‘What starts wrong ends wrong’- initial absolutist approaches in vaccine acquisition started to be manifested in discriminatory distribution of vaccines. Thereby, an amazing scientific breakthrough, development of vaccine in record time, has been offset by awful political policy. In mid-2021, when one portion of world were almost on the track of carefree normalcy, people in bigger portion were struggling to breath. Today, problem is not in production of vaccines, as 2 billion doses of vaccines are being manufactured in every month, rather in the ‘unfairness of distribution’.

Early monopolistic exercise by G20 on acquisition and subsequent stockpile of vaccines has resulted in such galling situation that they have commandeered over 89% of vaccines already produced and over 71% of future deliveries. Consequently, the global inoculation drive, since started, is so unjust that for every vaccine delivered to the poorest countries, six times as many doses are being administered as third and booster vaccines in the richest countries. Adding further to the crisis being escalated, while more than 100 countries, for past one year, have desperately demanded emergency waiver on TRIPs related regulatory restriction on Technologies crucial to pandemic recovery, it has repeatedly been blocked by UK and EU.

Picture is not all-about gloomy with respect to vaccine collaboration but it is quite tiny to the scale of requirements. Rich countries could not deliver on the commitments they did to help poor countries immunize their population. For instance, WHO’s target of having 40% of global population vaccinated by end of this year, through COVAX, seems certainly to fall short largely due to the rich countries failing to deliver on their promise to use their surplus vaccines to immunize the under-vaccinated countries. Far from near, the G7 countries had drastically failed to deliver on their promises made on G7 summit in June. As of last week, USA has delivered only 25%, with further embarrassing arithmetic of EU only 19%, UK 11% and Canada just 5%.

Given the frightening predictions from WHO that another 5 million could be added to the already 5 million death tolls across the world, in the next year or more, it is high time starting a collective endeavor with herculean efforts to inoculate large swaths of unvaccinated people in un-protected areas. Keeping large portion out of vaccination will only make the pandemic endure with no time to end, as virus continues to persist through mutating in un-protected area into a more menacing variant. If so, then again someone else may say, after next the worst wave-We were forewarned- and yet here we are.             

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The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW): Wishful daydream or historic milestone?

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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017, has entered into force on the 22nd of January of this year and the number of ratifying states continues to grow, with Mongolia being the latest to announce its accession. This positive trend is certainly welcomed with enthusiasm by the Civil Society campaigners and growing number of supporters of this treaty that represents a huge step forward for the global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It would certainly be dishonest to ignore the fact that this new international legal instrument remains controversial, to say the least, for most of the members of the so-called nuclear deterrence community. As preparations are ongoing for the first Meeting of States Parties, scheduled to take place in Vienna on 22-24 March 2022, it is useful to address some of the main doubts and arguments against the treaty.

In this regard, the main criticism is that it makes no sense to support a treaty on nuclear weapons if those states that possess them have not joined nor any intention to join it.  

In order to address this claim, it may be useful to recall that in the case of the Mine Ban and the Cluster Munition treaties, its main promoters and supporters were also states that did not possess those weapons, and that those international instruments also received some harsh criticism for this reason. Despite of this, there is no doubt now that both of those treaties have become remarkable success stories, not only by achieving the goal of approaching universalization, but also by consolidating a general moral condemnation of those categories of weapons. Therefore, the argument that a treaty necessarily needs to be joined by the possessors of the weapons can easily be rebutted. Despite of the current position of the nuclear weapons states, each new ratification of the treaty is not meaningless: on the contrary, it provides the treaty more authority and contributes to the growing pressure on nuclear weapons states to adopt further steps towards nuclear disarmament.

The other major contribution of the TPNW is that it facilitates the process of delegitimisation of nuclear weapons, necessary to finally amend the well-established foundations of nuclear deterrence doctrines. The humanitarian principles that are underlying the treaty are totally incompatible with those doctrines, and therefore are having an impact on them by highlighting the inherent immorality and illegitimacy of nuclear weapons.   

Another argument for the case of ratification is that it provides states the opportunity to support the process of democratization of the global debate on nuclear weapons, as this new treaty has been the result of a very open discussion with active engagement of delegations from all geographic regions and, in particular, of representatives of Civil Society. This is not a minor aspect of this process, but a key element. Indeed, unlike in negotiations of previous international legal instruments, in this era of growing complexity and interlinkages, the main challenges faced by humankind are being addressed by a diverse group of citizens, from all walks of life and regions. Traditional diplomacy is certainly not enough, and in the case of the TPNW, the positive results would clearly not have been possible without the decisive boost provided by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was able to mobilize Civil Society and likeminded governments towards the goal of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty. 

While it would be naïve to expect the establishment of the nuclear weapons states to be convinced by the humanitarian narrative and in a foreseeable future to amend its defence and security policies base on nuclear deterrence, the TPNW and its focus on the security of the human being instead of the traditional notion of the security of the state, are already having an impact on the academic and public debates in those states.

The second argument used by its critics is that the TPNW weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Actually, this is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. In fact, the TPNW can serve as an initiative to help implement article VI of the NPT, by which parties are committed to undertake to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. This is of vital importance as the treaty clearly attaches a key role to all parties, and not only to those states that possess nuclear weapons. This commitment has also been reflected in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the TPNW can be understood as a reflection of that obligation to contribute to nuclear disarmament by non-nuclear weapons states.

Another common point is that the nuclear weapons industry is too strong and well consolidated and that it would be naïve to pretend that this treaty could actually have an impact on investment decisions.

This pessimism has also been proven wrong. In fact, in 2021, more than one hundred financial institutions are reported to have decided to stop investing in companies related to nuclear weapons production. As a result, the nuclear weapons industry is experiencing a considerable reduction and the trend towards the exclusion of this sector from investment targets is growing steadily. This is not only the consequence from the legal obligations that emanate from the TPNW but a reflection of the devaluation of the public image associated to these industries. As this public image continues to deteriorate, it is likely that this trend will continue and that the moral condemnation of these weapons of mass destruction will be absorbed into the mainstream of society.

Another common misinterpretation is that the TPNW should be understood as an instrument that is only designed to be joined exclusively by non-nuclear weapons states.

In fact, even though the treaty was developed by non-nuclear weapons states, it has been drafted and negotiated with the goal of universal adherence, including, someday, those states that still include nuclear deterrence in their national security doctrines. In particular, the TPNW establishes a clear set of steps for nuclear weapons states in order to eliminate their arsenals of nuclear weapons. Specifically, within 60 days after the entry into force of the treaty for a state party that possesses nuclear weapons, that state must submit a plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons to a competent international authority that has been specially designated by states parties. The treaty also includes a process to designate a competent international authority to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons by a state before acceding to the treaty, and a process for states parties that maintain nuclear weapons in their territories for the removal of these weapons and report this action to the United Nations Secretary General.

It is also noteworthy that this treaty obliges states parties to provide adequate assistance to victims affected by the use or by testing of nuclear weapons, and to take the necessary measures for environmental rehabilitation in areas contaminated under its control. This dimension of the treaty constitutes an important contribution both to the protection of human rights of victims and to the now inescapable obligation to protect the environment, which are aspects that are not covered by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This certainly does not affect the value and vital role of this key instrument of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime but complements it by addressing the fundamental issue of environmental reparation.

The main challenge now is now not only to achieve a wider universality of the TPNW, but to engage more stakeholders and create awareness on the urgency of bringing pressure on the nuclear weapons states to finally move toward nuclear disarmament. In this regard, Civil Society initiatives have been promoting engagement of members of grassroots, parliament, the media and city governments, particularly in nuclear weapons states, which has had impressive results, with hundreds of local governments expressing support for the treaty and generating discussion among the population. These initiatives serve the purpose of putting pressure on politicians and especially, to facilitate a discussion within democratic societies about the sustainability and risks involved in the possession and harboring of nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the TPNW has a long way to go and overcome many obstacles to achieve its objective, but in its first year of entry into force, it has already had an undeniable impact on the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, despite the expected skeptics and efforts to ignore its existence stemming from the still powerful nuclear deterrence establishment. Most of its technical experts, academics and government officials honestly believe that nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee peace and stability to the world and therefore should continue as the foundation of international security doctrines. These well-established ideas have been based on the questionable assumption that the deployment of these weapons have avoided war and can guarantee permanent peace for all nations. This has served as a sort of dogmatic idea for many decades, but recent research results have shown that the risks involved are significantly higher and that the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic for every citizen of the planet. The humanitarian impact paradigm, which underlies the process that has inspired the TPNW, has provoked a tectonic shift in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, which had been limited to the NPT review conferences with its often-frustrating results. Certainly, the persistence of the different approaches needs to be addressed in a more constructive discussion among the supporters of this treaty and the deterrence community.

Finally, the fact that the first meeting of states parties of the TPNW will take place in Vienna is very meaningful as Austria has been one of the leading nations in this process, particularly in drafting the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which has been a decisive step towards the treaty that has already fulfilled that commitment. Despite of all the difficulties and the persistence of significant resistance, the active and committed participation of diplomats and Civil Society representatives, under the leadership of Austria, allow to envisage that this first meeting will help to strengthen the treaty and move forward in the long and burdensome road to the final objective of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

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Regional Mechanisms of Human Rights: The Way Forward: Case of South Asia

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Long debates have evolved since the 1948 UDHR as to whether human rights should always be perceived as universal, or whether they need to be regarded as contextual on regional and local cultures. If we look at  Art. 2 of the UDHR the rights apply “with no distinction given to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Still in spite of this, the universality has been criticized by some, who argue that by claiming human rights are universal, we ignore and undermine the cultural differences that exist between societies in different parts of the world

Historically, the first written evidence of human rights was found in the famous universal declaration in 1215 A.D., popularly known as the ‘Magna Carta’. Along with the same, there were many thinkers like Hobbes, Locke Rousseau, Milton, and Voltaire who argued in favour of  individual rights and with passage of time and the conclusion of two world wars, the United Nations Organisation came into being on 24th October 1945 that replaced the League of Nations.

Further, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1948 and is considered a milestone in the field of human rights whose primary aim is to protect and promote human rights. In contrast to the said aim, the critics of the UDHR label it as a Western-biased document that fails to account for the cultural norms and values which exist in the rest of the world. It is only with regard to a group of certain core rights like that are listed in the human rights treaties as ‘non-derogable rights’ or considered jus cogens such as the prohibition of the use of force, the law of genocide, the principle of racial non- discrimination, crimes against humanity, and the rules prohibiting trade in slaves and piracy that consensus among nations exist.

The core of the issue is that a group of nations are seeking to redefine the content of the term “human rights” according to their own social and cultural experiences as they argue that the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration reflect Western values and not their own. These countries sign many international human rights treaties and conventions, but the use of reservations and internal obstacles

jeopardize their implementation. Such claims of social and cultural differences in the past have been dismissed by the western countries and the USA who dismissed such claims as being a screen behind which authoritarian governments can perpetuate abuses.

Coming to South Asian Nations, there does exist violations of human rights in India as there is an absence of any regional framework that can hold the government responsible for the acts committed or provide a forum to individuals to appeal against the decisions of the Courts like the one existing under European Court of Human Rights. To illustrate, the aspect of women’s rights needs consideration and improvement in the daily lives of women to meet the gap between formal rights and actual implementation of the same.  What this means is that there exists a necessity to focus on translating the universal values enshrined under International human rights to local contexts that is the only option available to human beings irrespective of the geographical location to the ideals of equality and freedom from discrimination

In this context, there arises a need for establishing regional and sub- regional human rights codes or conventions. This has also been recognized by the United Nations since in absence of a universal approach that the South Asian states refuse to adopt, it is through regional initiatives that the motives of human rights could be achieved. The need for a regional initiative becomes even more significant because unlike Europe, America, and Africa there is no inter-governmental regional system for human rights protection in South Asia. In practice, the reason cited is that the human rights debate revolves around the South Asian views or perspectives. Although the South Asian governments have ratified international human rights instruments, they fail to reflect in the national constitutions or laws of most governments.

The fact that human rights will enjoy certain specificity in South Asia, still to be elaborated and applied, however, does not mean less for the universality of human rights. The reason being that the international human rights do not originate from merely one homogenous European value system or culture, but from various heterogeneous sources, some of these existing in the long history of South Asia. Thus, human rights are universal not only in their applicability to all human beings in every corner of the world, but are also universal because they originated from every corner in the world.

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