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International Law

The crisis of international law

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The idea of promoting the human rights agenda in the image and likeness of the Western countries’ principles – as the repositories of Absolute Truth – is counterproductive and directly harmful in the Near and Middle East and Central Asia, as it does not consider the historical experience of these geopolitical regions. Moreover, many experts in the West talk about such topics, but do not really know the local culture or languages. Therefore, when they write about these countries, they rely on the classic languages of imperialism – English and French – with all that inevitably follows in geometric progression.

The decline of the bipolar system in international relations in the early 1990s was accompanied by great expectations of politicians and experts, who dreamt of the advent of a world based on the rule of law. A kind of Paradise on Earth, where everyone would suddenly be happy, and wars – but first and foremost hunger – would disappear. Their dreams, however, were not destined to become true, as wars have multiplied and hunger is claiming more victims than ever before, with the spectre of wars over water resources now looming large.

The specificities of international relations are determined by the three most important components: international law, geopolitics and ideology. The first international treaty systems appeared in the ancient world: in the aftermath of the Battle of Qadeš between the Egyptians and the Hittites at the end of May 1,274 BC. In 1,258 a fair treaty was concluded regarding the land to be ruled around the border that Ramesses II was unable to move farther north than Qadeš. But diplomacy, in the modern sense of the word, only began to take shape after the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648.

On May 15, 1648 the Protestant princes signed the first treaty of the Peace of Westphalia, in Osnabrück, which marked the end of the conflict between Sweden and the Habsburg Empire. The Catholic princes later signed two more treaties in Münster (on October 24 of the same year).

Westphalia – and, to an even greater extent, the Congress of Vienna (November 1, 1814 – June 9, 1815) that replaced it, was also based on three components: multipolarity, the balance of powers and the concert of powers, which mainly meant the importance of the great powers: Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom. In many ways, the same principles were characteristic of the Yalta-Potsdam system, which determined relations between the two superpowers during the Cold War. The rules of international law were respected above all because there was a force behind them that could not be ignored. That is why peace reigned in Europe and the interests of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America clashed mainly in the countries on the periphery – i.e. by shifting the Second Thirty Years’ War (1914-1945) to Third World countries and the Balkans, so that the West’s and East’s war industries would have their war theatres as outlets for their weapons. Little could the People’s Republic of China do by defining both the former and the latter social-imperialists as imperialists tout court, and branding them both as hegemonists.

In the 1990s the world changed. It became “US-centric”. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States of America became the only superpower to take responsibility for the fate of humanity, i.e. its own “manifest destiny”. The concept of the “end of history”, developed by the famous American political scientist and Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Francis Fukuyama – although criticised by some experts in the United States of America – has not been seriously revised. In turn, the various wars in Asia, Yugoslavia and the difficult situation in Africa (the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, amidst the United Nations’ indifference and multiple local wars) raised the issue of the right to interfere in the countries’ internal affairs in order to protect human rights.

The situation in the former Soviet Union also changed. Local leaders seemed to be deciding to abandon their sovereignty completely and to integrate themselves as far as possible into Western political structures.

It is worth mentioning the conversation between the former President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon (the last great US President), and Boris Yeltsin’s former Foreign Minister, Andrey Vladimirovič Kozyrev, in June 1992. When asked by President Nixon how the Russian government decided his country’s national priorities, Kozyrev replied that its leaders were guided by universal values: “Probably you, as a friend of Russian democracy, will help formulate these interests?” asked Kozyrev. The former US President briefly replied that he would not commit himself to doing so, hoping that the Minister would formulate them himself. However, after President Nixon left the Foreign Ministry, he could not resist stating that it was unlikely that such a Head of Russian diplomacy could earn the respect of his compatriots.

The main idea of the United States of America, after the collapse of the bipolar system, was to take measures to prevent the emergence of any serious competitors in the international arena, especially in Eurasia. That effort, however, concealed a structural contradiction: the world is too complex and diverse to be controlled by a single centre. Humanity is currently faced with situations in which the system of international law is ever less functioning.

The powers in the world arena have been upset and, without international law respected by everyone, it is impossible to speak about the existence of a system of equilibrium, but only of world law, regarded as a construction solely in the interests of the hegemonic and hegemonist country, whose role is increasingly claimed by the United States of America. .

The reason for the crisis in which world diplomacy is now floundering is the US exorbitant ambitions, which have been expressed in the “liberal” interventionism of the Democratic Party and the neo-conservative ideology of the Republican Party.

The economic rise of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the creation of the foreign policy bases by the Russian Federation, which has recovered from the consequences of the “shock therapy” and the quasi-clearance sale operated by Yeltsin has gradually laid the conditions for the creation of the basis of a new multipolarity in the balance of power. The problem lies in the fact that it is extremely disadvantageous for the United States to recognise this new reality, because the US unique position after the end of the Cold War brought it considerable economic and political dividends. Moreover, the White House mastered new mechanisms to control its partners’ activities. For example, many of the strategically important technologies that many countries need are based on US patents.

Obviously, for the United States of America, the intensification of Russian foreign policy since the second half of the 2000s has in many ways been an unpleasant revelation. While the People’s Republic of China developed gradually, for the moment without criticising the United States on controversial issues, Russia’s position, starting with Vladimir Putin’s speech delivered in Munich in 2007, and especially after the handover of Crimea to the motherland in 2014, began to be perceived by the White House as a challenge aimed at restoring the influence lost in Eurasia and the world as a whole.

Was it possible to avoid the conflict, which led to clashes of interests between the USA-NATO and Russia on the territory of Georgia, Ukraine and Syria? Some experts think so. The well-known British political scientist, Richard Sakwa – a Professor at the University of Kent – noted that the main problem of the West is that for many years it did not find effective mechanisms to integrate countries like Russia and the People’s Republic of China into the orbit of its values. Developing this idea, we can see that the conditions for such an association should have been discussed on an equal footing and not imposed from outside.

Will there be a politician in today’s Europe who knows how to return to cooperation and compromise with Russia, reviving de Gaulle’s idea of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals”? In Italy certainly not; probably in France and Germany. While, on the whole, the current EU politicians – except when attempting to ban saying “Merry Christmas”, for reasons of politically correct inclusiveness – are more interested in serving US interests.  

Therefore, the reason for the alienation arisen between Russia, the People’s Republic of China and the West lies in the arrogance of the so-called developed countries, which actually deny the others the existence of national priorities, thus imposing – like good Gauleiter – the sphere of third parties’ interest.

The development of Russia’s relations with Eastern countries, and especially with the People’s Republic of China, is intended to make up for the losses Russia has suffered as a result of its confrontation with the West. According to some experts, however, China does not fully trust the current Russian political elite. The current complications in its relations with the United States and the European Union are sometimes seen here as nothing more than contrast and opposition, which can end as soon as Western politicians offer decent compensation. All this with the hope that then the Russian Federation will switch to a consistent anti-Chinese policy. Such fears are not unreasonable, but the anti-Russian lobby in the US Congress is unlikely to find strategists subtle enough to ensure such a split.

Currently much depends on the White House’s policy. It cannot be ruled out that the US President’s uncertain actions – see the literal flight from Afghanistan – are likely to help clarify the platform on which a different concept of foreign policy will emerge from the United States. A concept which is probably better suited to the changed reality, since the allies’ loss of power and trust was inevitably undermined in Afghanistan.

Every year it becomes increasingly clear that the modern world needs new value bases for its development. With all the well-known merits of liberal democracy, it shall leave the historical scene. But what concepts will replace it and help humanity out of the crisis? Will there be some model of meritocracy or transhumanism, which is now fashionable in certain circles? It is too early to answer this question definitively. The fact is that, a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, ideological enmity has re-emerged between Europe and Russia. A significant reason for its emergence lies in the US efforts to prevent the revival of the idea of “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. In view of laying the foundations for overcoming it, we need to recognise the right of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China to pursue an independent foreign policy line and to step up contacts with Russia and China in the framework of the integration projects of multilateralism that had ensured stability until the implosion of the Soviet Union (December 25, 1991).

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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International Law

Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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United States thinks it’s ‘the exception to the rules of war’

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The architects of those Nuremberg trials—representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France fully expected that the new United Nations would establish a permanent court where war criminals who couldn’t be tried in their home countries might be brought to justice. In the end, it took more than half a century to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only in 1998 did 60 nations adopt the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute. Today, 123 countries have signed.

Guess what superpower has never signed the ICC? Here are a few hints? – writes Rebecca Gordon in an article at “The Nation”:

Its 2021 military budget dwarfed that of the next nine countries combined and was 1.5 times the size of what the world’s other 144 countries with such budgets spent on defense that year.

Its president has just signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill for 2023, more than half of which is devoted to “defense” (and that, in turn, is only part of that country’s full national security budget).

It operates roughly 750 publicly acknowledged military bases in at least 80 countries.

In 2003, it began an aggressive, unprovoked (and disastrous) war by invading a country 6,900 miles away.

Yes! The United States is that Great Exception to the rules of war.

While, in 2000, during the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton did sign the Rome Statute, the Senate never ratified it. Then, in 2002, as the Bush administration was ramping up its Global War on Terror, including its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan and an illegal CIA global torture program, the United States simply withdrew its signature entirely. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (photo) then explained why this way:

“The ICC provisions claim the authority to detain and try American citizens — U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as current and future officials — even though the United States has not given its consent to be bound by the treaty. When the ICC treaty enters into force, U.S. citizens will be exposed to the risk of prosecution by a court that is unaccountable to the American people, and that has no obligation to respect the Constitutional rights of our citizens.”

The assumption built into Rumsfeld’s explanation was that there was something special — even exceptional — about US citizens. Unlike the rest of the world, we have “Constitutional rights,” which apparently include the right to commit war crimes with impunity.

Even if a citizen is convicted of such a crime in a US court, he or she has a good chance of receiving a presidential pardon. And were such a person to turn out to be one of the “current and future officials” Rumsfeld mentioned, his or her chance of being hauled into court would be about the same as mine of someday being appointed secretary of defense.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, but, as it happens, Afghanistan is. In 2018, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, formally requested that a case be opened for war crimes committed in that country. ‘The New York Times’ reported that Bensouda’s “inquiry would mostly focus on large-scale crimes against civilians attributed to the Taliban and Afghan government forces.” However, it would also examine “alleged C.I.A. and American military abuse in detention centers in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and at sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, putting the court directly at odds with the United States.”

Bensouda planned an evidence-gathering trip to the United States, but in April 2019, the Trump administration revoked her visa, preventing her from interviewing any witnesses here. It then followed up with financial sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC prosecutor, Phakiso Mochochoko.

So where do those potential Afghan cases stand today? A new prosecutor, Karim Khan, took over as 2021 ended. He announced that the investigation would indeed go forward, but that acts of the United States and allies like the United Kingdom would not be examined. He would instead focus on actions of the Taliban and the Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State.

When it comes to potential war crimes, the United States remains the Great Exception. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were just a little less exceptional?

If, for instance, in this new year, we were to transfer some of those hundreds of billions of dollars Congress and the Biden administration have just committed to enriching corporate weapons makers, while propping up an ultimately unsustainable military apparatus, to the actual needs of Americans?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just a little of that money were put into a new child tax credit? – asks Rebecca Gordon.

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International Law

Selective Standards: Fight Against Oppression or Just a Geopolitical Showdown for Global Supremacy?

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The karma of destiny is perhaps the most patent representation of natural balance one could witness in a lifetime. The global divide between democracy and autocracy has been a mainstay of western diplomacy since the days of the Cold War. ‘Rule-based International Order’ has been the de facto foreign policy of subsequent western administrations – the United States, in particular. One would assume that the virtue of such an altruistic agenda would extend universally regardless of caste, creed, and ethnicity. But unfortunately, while nature could prove occasionally unfair, each successive American regime sets new records of cant and hypocrisy, as if trying to remind us of its duplicitous existence and deviant machinations.

The war in Ukraine was the grotesque highlight of the year 2022. But what notably garnered considerable spotlight was the western unity against Russian maneuvers. Placing crippling sanctions on the Kremlin – done. Cutting energy imports from Russia – mission accomplished. Military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine – $65 billion have already been appropriated to Kyiv, while an additional $47 billion got approved in a $1.7 trillion government funding bill signed by President Biden. What else? Oh, yes! Sanctions on Iran for supplying military drones to Russia, allegedly used in surveillance and targeted attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Russia got ejected from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), ridiculed in the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and suspended from the Group of Eight (G8) in 2014 for annexing Crimea. All in the name of, and I quote the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “defense of the UN Charter and in resolute opposition to Russia’s devastating war of aggression against Ukraine and its people.” Well, is the defense of the UN Charter absolute or subject to the selective judgment of the United States? Is all aggression against any innocent civilians culpable, or just Russian predation against innocent denizens of Ukraine? The answer was pretty evident on (ironically) the last day of the year that would remain earmarked in history as the year of the notorious Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The UNGA voted on a resolution calling on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to opine on the legal consequences of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Today, Israel colonizes swathes of Palestinian land beyond the borders established under the 1947 UN Partition Plan (contentious in itself to begin with). Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, this illegal occupation also includes Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. The resolution passed 87 to 26 with 53 abstentions. Unsurprisingly, the typical states opposing the resolution were the United States and Britain – the flag-bearers of justice in the Russian war in Ukraine. The same standard-bearers of international law that applauded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for dragging Russia to the ICJ before Russian forces even fully penetrated the Ukrainian borders. It is another rueful example of a shameless display of hypocrisy on the geopolitical canvas. And it would’ve been tragicomical had it not been par for the course – a historical cliche!

Last month, two US lawmakers: namely House Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, introduced a bipartisan congressional resolution calling on President Biden to boot Russia from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its “flagrant violations” of the UN Charter, including its illegal naturalization of four Ukrainian oblasts and committing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. While the expulsion proceedings of a permanent member of the UNSC are both obscure and (frankly) unrealistic without Russian consent, this scenario is spectacularly ironic.

In November 1967, the members of the UNSC voted unanimously for Resolution 242: calling out Israel to withdraw from the annexed territories seized in the Six-Day War. Yet 55 years later, Israel not only continues to violate the resolution, it also proceeds to expand settlements on expropriated Palestinian land with impunity. In the last five decades, the Israeli regime has demolished over 28,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territory; spawned more than 200 settlements and outposts. And between 600,000 and 750,000 Jewish settlers have been transferred to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The violence against Palestinians has never ceased.

According to the data from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a total of 424 children have been killed in Ukraine by Russian barbarity. Apartment blocks razed mercilessly; the electricity grid battered to the brink of collapse. The United States has termed it a ’systemic’ assault on humanity, and President Biden even called it a “genocide.” The same department (OHCHR) reported in May 2021 that the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip killed 242 Palestinian children. Was Israel punished for its war crimes? Far from it. President Biden recently congratulated the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the architect of the 11-day war in 2021, on forming the government – terming him as his “friend for decades” while conspicuously ignoring concerns regarding the inclusion of far-right racist politicians in the new cabinet.

The US officials have always maintained a programmed PR narrative of “Israel’s right to defend itself.” From what, children? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Israeli aggression in Gaza displaced more than 74,000 Palestinians, including 7,000 children without a roof, scant food supplies, and virtually no access to medical assistance. The WHO also reported the decimation of 30 health facilities in Gaza due to Israeli airstrikes. Yet, annualized military aid to the tune of $3.8 billion continues to flow to Israel from the United States. What more to explain other than the absolute mockery of international law; the farce of diplomacy of human rights and equitable justice at the behest of the apparently puritanical United States of America.

History is riddled with numerous examples of American duplicity. The American acquiescence to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which eventually galvanized the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah. The United States vetoed the UNSC resolution – one of its 53 vetoes time and again used to shield Israel from global denunciation – calling for Israel’s immediate withdrawal from southern Lebanon. An estimated 49,600 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians died during the occupation. And then there are glaring examples of American interventions. Its outright support to the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union and the subsequent provenance of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. How can one forget the devastating invasion of Iraq on the utterly bogus canard of Saddam Hussein wielding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Between 2003 and 2006, the US-led assault resulted in over 655,000 Iraqi civilian casualties, primarily due to the indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the US forces on Iraqi towns and cities. And the civil vacuum engendered in wake of the Iraq War served as a breeding ground for radical offshoots of Al-Qaeda – later accreting under the banner of the Islamic State (IS). How can a country such as America still enjoy a moral high ground when its historical scroll stands emblazoned with unilateral aggression, illegal intervention, and unabashed prevention of justice against its genocidal allies?

The war in Ukraine is a blood-strewn conflict but a rendition of complex realpolitik import and balance of regional power dynamics. Opposing Russian cruelty should not implicitly spell out support for American rhetoric. One could still stand with Ukrainians while denouncing its backers in the name of universal covenants of justice. All humans are entitled to the right to life, security, freedom, and dignity. These fundamental rights should not waver based on alliances – political, ideological, ethnic, or otherwise.

While the passage of this UNGA resolution is a promising sign of growing global consciousness, it won’t yield any significant, policy-altering outcomes. In 2004, the ICJ weighed on the issue of Israeli occupation and ruled that the wall in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem was illegal. In response, Israel termed The Hague ‘politically motivated’ and rejected the ruling. Similarly, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, speaking ahead of the vote, characterized this resolution as “a moral stain on the UN,” further arguing that “no international body can decide that the Jewish people are occupiers of their own homeland.” Russia makes an eerily similar argument about Ukraine; Russian President Vladimir Putin aspires to ‘Reunify the Soviet Motherland.’ Even China’s President Xi Jinping posits a parallel assertion regarding the ‘reunification’ of Taiwan with the Chinese motherland. The resemblance is uncanny. But while the US continues to support Ukraine to wrestle back lost territory from Russian troops; continues to arm Taiwan to defend against a potential amphibious invasion from China, plans are effectively underway to move the US embassy to Jerusalem – a tacit nod to Donald Trump’s aberrant recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – despite the city’s disputed status under the international law. I reckon the words of Ms. Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in her introductory essay in the HRW World Report 2023 aptly bewail these double standards: “[In] a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights.

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