Archive for Europe and Central Asia

“Abort the Government”: Polish Citizens Challenge Poland’s Retreat to Autocracy

By Ali Cain, RightsViews staff writer and a graduate student in the European History, Politics, and Society  MA Program

Over the last three weeks, Polish citizens have ignited the country’s biggest protests since the 1989 pro-democracy movement in response to the passing of a de facto abortion ban. Although Poland already had the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, its highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, concluded that performing abortions, even in situations where a baby would be born sick or disabled, violates the Constitution’s guarantee to the protection of life. This ruling poses immense infringements on women’s rights and pushes the country into deeper democratic backsliding. 

Despite Polish President Andrzej Duda announcing that the ban would be delayed indefinitely, protests have developed into a larger retaliation against the ruling far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS). Since its rise to power in 2015, the Party maintains support by enflaming cultural tensions over LGBTQ+ rights, migration, and abortion. Prior to the Tribunal’s ruling, women were only allowed to get abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetus abnormalities. According to The New York Times, the majority of legally terminated Polish pregnancies in 2019 were because of fetus abnormalities. Doctors are also able to use religious beliefs to justify not performing abortions or prescribing contraception. Poland’s restrictions led many women to seek abortions in other countries or illegally. 

Since the decision, thousands of Poles in 150 towns and cities have turned out to protest. Demands include access to abortion, non-religious sex education, and the transfer of Church funds to groups fighting violence against women. As the protests grow, President Duda proposed an exception to the Tribunal’s ruling that would allow abortions when there is “high probability” of the fetus being stillborn or being born with a condition “leading inevitably and directly to death.” He later announced that the new laws would be delayed indefinitely and is currently attempting to find a compromise between the far-right wing of PiS and its less extreme parliament members. However, the protests are now past the issue of abortion as various groups with grievances against PiS are heightening calls for the government’s resignation. 

The PiS’ control over the Tribunal is one of many examples of how the Party has infringed on the rule of law. Since coming to power, PiS has slowly eroded judicial independence; in 2017, the Party mandated a lower retirement age that dismissed half of the Polish Supreme Court’s justices. It then took over the National Council of the Judiciary which appoints judges and made it illegal for judges to complain about the PiS. The Tribunal is packed with judges that support the PiS as the Party attempts to use the judicial system, instead of the parliament, to encroach on human rights and create a state that is reflective of a strong nationalist, pro-Catholic identity. 

The European Union (EU) has yet to respond to the Tribunal’s ruling or the protests in Poland. Nonetheless, Poland’s democratic backsliding has not gone unnoticed as the rule of law is one of the EU’s core values.

For the first time in EU history, Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union was triggered in response to the 2017 judicial overhaul. This article, which is used when a member state violates the Union’s main tenants, allows the European Council to give a formal warning to a country,  issue sanctions and revoke a member state’s voting rights in the Council if the country fails to reform. In 2017, the European Commission released recommendations for Poland on how it could address its rule of law breaches by reversing many of its judicial policies. Not surprisingly, these recommendations went ignored. 

The EU has recently expressed concern at two other developments in Poland: the creation of “LGBTQ+ free” zones in cities and towns, and President Duda’s re-election. When the EU responded to the “LGBTQ+ free” zones by cutting off funding to 6 of the 100+ towns with zones, Poland supplemented the lack of EU funding with state support. The June 2020 election, which Duda won narrowly, came under scrutiny due to difficulties in voters receiving absentee ballots and pro-PiS news coverage by media groups supportive of the government. 

European institutions, especially the Commission, have desperately tried to develop mechanisms to hold Poland accountable. The Commission released its first report on the rule of law in October 2020 and the Council is tying COVID-19 aid to respect for the rule of law. The Polish government openly rejected the Commission’s rule of law report and argued the EU was infringing on its sovereignty. On November 16, Poland and Hungary vetoed the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which is the EU’s 2021-2027 €1.8 trillion budget that includes the EU Economic Recovery Plan, over the inclusion of a rule of law mechanism. It took member states months to negotiate both the Economic Recovery Plan and MFF; the veto has already  garnered immense criticism from many member states desperately in need of aid. It will likely cause outrage among Polish and Hungarian citizens who are financially struggling due to the pandemic.

Although PiS tends to invoke Eurosceptic rhetoric, it has more to lose in fighting with the EU than to gain. According to The Guardian, no country has seen greater financial benefits from EU membership than Poland. Besides the benefits in trade, agricultural subsidies, and infrastructure funds that the country receives from the EU, Poland also expects to receive over €139 billion in grants from the EU’s upcoming budget. The government has already started public consultations on projects to spend its recovery funding on. Additionally, the majority of Polish citizens support the EU; a 2019 Pew Research poll found that 84% of Poles had a favorable opinion of the EU. It would be unwise for the Duda regime to continue challenging the EU when it has benefitted significantly from its membership.

Human rights in Poland are now at a crossroads. The abortion ban shows how far PiS has gone in influencing and reshaping the Polish judiciary to discard the rule of law. However, the government’s delay in imposing the ban due to the massive protests demonstrates that Duda and PiS are not above public opinion. Now is the time for the EU to both step up its public support of the protests and find new ways to hold Poland accountable. . In early November, the European Parliament agreed to a deal with Germany that would require a qualified majority vote in decisions on cutting member state’s funds. Usually, Council decisions must be approved by unanimity, posing an accountability challenge as Hungary consistently vetoes sanctions against Poland. Even though the bar remains high in achieving a qualified majority, more states are expressing concern that their citizens’ tax-dollars are going to other member states who do not respect the rule of law. As a result of this agreement, states were able to use qualified majority voting to include the rule of law mechanism in the budget.

Although the introduction of qualified majority voting wasn’t enough to block Hungary and Poland’s vetoes, it lays the foundation for further discussions of how to change the EU’s voting rules to hold countries accountable. If Poland and Hungary insist on continuing to block the MFF, the EU should start considering treaty changes or other agreements that would allow for more flexibility in voting in order to bypass vetoes.  

As president of the European Council, Germany should take the lead in using its diplomatic and negotiation finesse to pressure Hungary and Poland to allow the budget to go forward as any further delays in aid distribution will impose greater short term and long term economic challenges for EU member states. The abortion protests, Duda’s narrow re-election, rising COVID-19 cases, and World Bank projections that forecast a recession in Poland puts PiS in a precarious position. The current protest movement is providing a genuine challenge to the government and the EU must use this opportunity to continue to prevent further democratic backsliding.

Make the Money, Make (up) the News? The Underreported War of Nagorno-Karabakh

By Nay Alhelou, Co-Editor of RightsViews and MA Candidate in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University. 

Four weeks on, the war over Nagorno-Karabakh continues despite a third ceasefire agreement that was supposed to take effect on October 26. In the meantime, a parallel war – a war of (mis)information – finally starts to make headlines.

Over the past two weeks, both academics and journalists reported on the ways in which Azerbaijan has been using its financial power to set the tone of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Academics at Harvard University and Columbia University pointed out that Azerbaijan has been investing in lobbying firms and using social media ‘trolls’ to spread misinformation in the aim of getting the public’s support. For example, Azerbaijani Telegram channel “The Tagiev” claimed that videos showing the capture and execution of two Armenian soldiers were staged, even though originally the channel itself posted them and identified them as real. However, an investigation by Bellingcat found that the videos were indeed factual, unlike the claims made by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense. Similarly, an Armenian Weekly journalist wrote an in-depth piece detailing different examples of propaganda articles brought to audiences by Azerbaijani-paid PR firms.

As important as these and similar articles are, they have yet to make it to the mainstream. As such, the potential fact-checks and context they provide may go unnoticed. Unless you happen to be an avid reader of a university’s newsletter, you just might miss crucial pieces of information.

However, the so-called mainstream media are not entirely oblivious to Azerbaijan’s financial powers and how they can impact not just the conflict itself, but also how the international community views it. 

Indeed, media are well aware of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas reserves and the economic power – or at least advantages – these may bring to the country. Be it the ability to misinform the public or gain the sympathy of world powers, the less advantageous impacts of Azerbaijan’s economy tend to be ignored, or at best mentioned ‘en passant.’  

For example, on October 18, The New York Times stated matter-of-factly that “Azerbaijan, an oil and gas hub on the Caspian Sea, has deployed superior firepower, using advanced drones and artillery systems it buys from Israel, Turkey and Russia.” While such a statement alludes to the benefits of a strong oil and gas reserve, it falls short from providing an in-depth analysis of said benefits. Readers are then left without any clear understanding of the economic and political powers that are at play and that may be impacting the reaction of the international community (or lack thereof) vis-à-vis the conflict and its resolution.

Again, in another article that the NYT claims would help readers “understand the conflict,” there is no mention of the economic disparities between the two warring sides at all. Even with their economies combined, the GDP of Nagorno-Karabakh (USD 713 million in 2019) and that of Armenia (USD 13.6 billion in 2019) are still less than half the GDP of Azerbaijan alone, which stood at USD 48 billion in 2019. Whether an omission of neglect or intent, the result remains the same: key context is missing.

Other outlets are not as oblivious to the power that comes with money. In an Arabic opinion piece published in “The New Arab” – a pan-Arab outlet based in the UK – Ammar Dayoub plainly warns that the difference between Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s economic resources will directly impact the outcome of the conflict. He argues that “Azerbaijan’s power stems from the fact it was armed with energy revenue, after 1994, from Russia, Turkey and Israel” and with Armenia’s scarcity of resources, Nagorno-Karabakh will be unable to stand against “the regionally supported attack.”

Even in cases where journalists point out the lies or half-truths spread by the warring countries, a human rights lens seems to be missing. In particular, the mainstream media are neglecting the fact that the right to information – which is an integral part of the freedom of expression – is continuously under threat.

To be sure, this right does not guarantee that people will get accurate information per se. However, it can be argued that the spread of misinformation and the exclusion of key data restricts the audience’s right to access information. As a result, public opinion about the conflict as well as peace resolution efforts may be negatively impacted, if not skewed to the benefit of the richer country.  

Under international humanitarian law, all sides involved in a conflict are subject to equal obligations and have equal rights. This principle ensures that no side can claim that it is fighting a ‘just’ war in the hopes of getting away with everything it does on the battleground.

This principle, however, does not extend beyond the battlefield, where anyone seems to be able to claim anything from the justness of the war to the facts of the war and its context.

Indeed, when a military war turns into one of information, there seems to be only one rule: ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune.’ That is, until we call it out.

The Struggle for Equality: When Will European Roma Human Rights Finally be Respected?

By Larissa Peltola, a staff writer for RightsViews and a graduate student in the Human Rights MA Program. 

The Roma, pejoratively referred to as Gypsies, are Europe’s largest and most marginalized and disenfranchised ethnic minority.  There are an estimated 10-12 million Roma in Europe, making up 5 percent of the population. The Roma are most concentrated in Italy, Spain, France, and the UK, according to Amnesty International, but have settled in every country on the continent. Originally migrating to Europe in the 9th century from Northern India and what is now Iran, Turkey, and Armenia, the Roma have faced discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and inhumane treatment in every country they have settled in. They were forced into slavery in most of Europe leading up to the 19th century, were the second-largest group targeted for extermination by the Third Reich (an estimated 25-75% of Europe’s Roma population were decimated in WWII), and were targeted for murder and rape during the conflict in Kosovo. 

Photo copyright: Archiv C891 Ungarische Zigeuner-Familie, Roma, unter deutscher Besatzung, 1940er https://www.flickr.com/photos/65091855@N03/24650497476

Today, the Roma are still described using the most common negative stereotypes: gypsies, thieves, criminals, savage, lazy, intellectually inferior, and other derogatory descriptions. A majority live in slums without access to running water or electricity and are at near-daily risk for violence committed by non-Roma European citizens. In 2019, six French men were arrested in a plot to burn down a Roma camp near Paris due to their belief in the baseless accusation that French Roma had been involved in a kidnapping ring in poor Parisian neighborhoods. Despite this failed attempt, anti-Roma sentiment and violence in France spiked soon after these racist and unfounded allegations circulated on social media. According to the New York Times, over several days Roma men were beaten and threatened according to advocacy groups. In Rome in 2017, three young Roma girls aged 4, 8, and 20 were burned alive when their camper-van was set on fire in an intentional attack on the camp. These are merely a few of countless examples of physical violence against the Roma.

European citizens are not the only ones guilty of inciting violence against the Roma. Government officials from several countries have used their influential platforms to call for violence against the Roma. French National Assembly Member Gilles Bourdouleix remarked in 2013: “Maybe Hitler didn’t kill enough of them.” Hungarian ruling Fidesz party co-founder Zsolt Bayer declared: “A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved — immediately and regardless of the method.”

Repeated violence and discrimination against the Roma continue to have a detrimental effect on their communities throughout Europe. Currently, 90% of Roma are at risk of extreme poverty, are subjected to forced evictions and deportations, face educational segregation, and on average, have lifespans that are ten years shorter than their non-Roma counterparts. Over 77% of Roma and Travellers (a similar nomadic but ethnically distinct group mainly living in Western Europe) in the UK have been victims of racially motivated attacks and hate crimes and in the UK, 70% of Roma experienced discrimination in seeking education, nearly 50% were refused employment due to their ethnicity, and 30% cannot access proper healthcare. Moreover, there are few recent reports on the overall status of the Roma in Europe as a majority of countries choose not to collect or take part in data collection.

This begs the question: why, in practice, have the rights of the Roma been left out of human rights discourses in Europe? This is a question that can only be answered honestly by confronting over a thousand years of racism, negative stereotypes, and xenophobia. Much of the discrimination they face has to do with the perception of their culture. Many Europeans view Roma culture as one that has a collective identity based upon a nomadic lifestyle, a group full of fortune tellers, beggars, thieves, child snatchers, people that are too lazy to work or get an education and instead choose to be a drain on society. Many believe that Roma lifestyles not only contradict, but are also inherently dangerous to the European way of life. These ideas emerged from a series of stereotypes imposed on them shortly after their enslavement in the 13th century. Consider the character of Esmerelda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cher’s popular song Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, or the reality show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which follows teen “Gypsy” brides. Each of these examples perpetuate the stereotypes of Roma girls as sexually promiscuous, Roma men as predators, and the Roma in general, as criminals. These myths were further perpetuated during the Holocaust and continue to spread throughout Europe today, made worse by social media. The Roma are continually scapegoated and are blamed for social, political, or economic problems facing the state.

Despite a large population, there is no central Roma authority since there is not one single Roma identity but instead a variety of unique cultural and linguistic groups throughout the continent. Moreover, there are few powerful Roma figures and very few politicians or others that can lobby on their behalf. The lack of advocacy on behalf of the Roma also comes from a lack of reliable data on their communities. On average, European countries do not dedicate enough resources for the collection of disaggregated data, which is essential in order to develop programs tailored to the needs of the community. Without this necessary data, financial resources cannot be allocated by the European Union, European Commission, and state governing bodies, thereby trapping the Roma into continued cycles of poverty. 

Incorporating Roma rights into the broader human rights framework necessitates an assessment of the legacy of colonialism in Europe that has gone unacknowledged and unaddressed. International organizations like Open Society Foundation, founded by George Soros, and Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s National Democratic Institute, have committed millions of dollars to advancing Roma rights throughout Europe, with varying degrees of success. However, many European politicians have pushed back on allowing for greater Roma participation in the social, cultural, and political field. Some countries have been accused of not distributing funds specifically allocated by international funders and the European Union for the advancement of Roma rights and community projects.  

The Roma have been victims of mass atrocities and genocide throughout history and continue to experience cultural genocide. Each European country where the Roma live has a legal and moral obligation to address the multitude of human rights violations against the Roma. States are responsible for correcting racial injustices by

  • integrating Roma children and adolescents into schools and putting in place mechanisms to prevent educational segregation, 
  • increasing access to the healthcare sector, 
  • developing discrimination and harassment training programs in all levels of society, especially for the police, prosecuting crimes against the Roma as hate crimes, and 
  • sentencing perpetrators of these crimes to the full extent of the law. 

If European countries continue to promote the idea that they are the defenders of human rights and that they fully embrace the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then they must do more to protect the most vulnerable and disenfranchised population on their continent.

It is time that Roma citizens be treated with the dignity and respect under the law that is afforded to all other Europeans.

Turkey’s Alarming Regional Intervention Continues to Affect Minority Communities with Impunity, This Time in Azerbaijan

By Guest Contributors Anoush Baghdassarian and Sherin Zadah

Tucked away into the southern caucasus is a region struggling for survival, not against COVID-19, but against yet another offensive by Turkey, this time in Azerbaijan, targeting the region’s minority populations.  

On Sept. 27, 2020, a war broke out in the Republic of Artsakh, also known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The conflict is mainly between Armenia, the ethnic Armenians of NKR, and Azerbaijan, but Turkey is also a player in the conflict; it has pledged support for Azerbaijan, closing its border with Armenia and reaffirming Azerbaijan’s claims to territorial integrity. 

Amid the current crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to “support our Azerbaijani brothers with all our means as always,” including military assistance. This manifested into a coordinated premeditated attack against one of its historic minority communities — the Armenians. This follows shortly after Turkey’s crimes against the Kurds, another one of its repeatedly persecuted ethnic groups. Turkey launched a targeted military campaign in northeastern Syria as confirmed by an August 2020 UN Human Rights Council Report that credibly accused Turkish-backed militias of committing crimes against humanity in Northern Syria against the minority Kurdish population. 

Turkey’s historical oppression of its minority populations such as the Kurds and Armenians has continued with impunity. Today, it has escalated to the immoral mobilization of a sophisticated network of proxy fighters that it deploys abroad, including in Libya, Armenia, and other countries, to fight its wars abroad. 

The Syrian National Army, or SNA, is one of the proxy groups that consists of vulnerable, war-torn Syrians who arguably would not be able to reject Turkey’s lucrative offer of 1,500-2,000 lira per month to fight abroad in Libya and now most recently, in Azerbaijan. 

Turkey has been acting without consequence in Syria, Libya, and now the self-proclaimed  Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, or NKR, located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but de jure recognized as within Azerbaijan’s borders. For over 25 years the NKR conflict, a stalemated tug-of-war between self-determination and territorial integrity, has been relatively peaceful (with minor skirmishes over the years, the longest lasting four days in 2016). Before the violence erupted, SNA commanders were transferred in late September to southern Turkey, and then transported to Azerbaijan on September 25th.  This occurred two days before the violence began in NKR. 

Turkey, the second largest military power in NATO,  has re-ignited the violence through its unilateral military support of Azerbaijan, and redefined it in alarming ways. This military alliance has been solidified through the Baku-Ankara agreement which prioritizes military cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan. To aid Azerbaijan and to further Turkey’s neo-ottomanism ambitions, Turkey has deployed Syrian foreign fighters to Azerbaijan. 

While it has already been confirmed that Azerbaijan used internationally condemned, and banned, cluster munitions in Stepanakert and Shushi, Turkey’s use of mercenaries adds another element of illegality to the fighting in NKR, according to Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, and Article 2(1)(b) of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.  The mercenaries deployed by Turkey are already credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Northern Syria, and are also affiliated with well-known terrorist organizations. Even the head of Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service stated that the conflict was attracting “hundreds and […]even thousands of radicals hoping to earn money in a new Karabakh war.” 

Turkey is thus in breach of its obligations under the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, to which it is a member. Furthermore, Azerbaijan and Syria have also ratified the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, making the use of mercenaries on their territory illegal. Since NKR is de jure recognized as within the borders of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani use of mercenaries in the conflict is a violation of their obligations under this Convention. 

Lastly, there is an argument to be made that Turkey is essentially coercing these impoverished Syrians into fighting, as the lack of available economic opportunity in war-torn Syria leaves them with no other option. For example, a Syrian foreign fighter fighting in Azerbaijan described to BBC how “they loaded us into troop carriers, we were wearing Azeri uniforms, and each of us was armed with a single Kalashnikov weapon. Most of the people here are poor civilians who wanted the money, not soldiers, stopped the car and we were surprised that we were in the line of fire. We did not even know where the enemy was.” While this does not preclude accountability for any illegal acts committed by the mercenaries, it is clear that the Turkish military exploited the economic and social needs of some individuals. 

While this war is too new to have thorough assessments of international law violations on the ground, we do have evidence of such violations committed by Turkey in Northern Syria. 

Turkey’s crimes against humanity against Kurds in Northeastern Syria have been well documented by the recent UN-HRC-45-31 report released in August 2020. The report documents the property theft, torture, sexual violence, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and severe deprivation of liberty, of people “primarily of Kurdish origin” living in Afrin by the Syrian National Army. These severe human rights abuses of Kurdish civilians should be immediately condemned and acted upon by the international community, including the United Nations Security Council. 

Not only does Turkey’s use of mercenaries amount to international law violations, it also poses a threat to global security. What is especially concerning about Turkey’s use of mercenaries in furthering its foreign policy interests is that its goals are against global interests, such as combating Islamist extremism. As stated by Elizabeth Prodromou, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Turkey’s active and passive support for ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups has been “very well documented.” Similarly, the  French President Emmanuel Macron expressed  his concern with “Turkey’s “warlike” rhetoric  which was encouraging Azerbaijan to reconquer Nagorno-Karabakh and that was unacceptable.” 

This has become a pressing global issue given that two world powers, Russia and Turkey, are on opposite sides of several major world conflicts such as in Syria and Libya and now in NKR, where Russia is trying to broker a ceasefire, and Turkey is fueling further fighting. The threat of these rising tensions risks further instability in a rapidly destabilizing region. What we see unfolding now follows an unsettling trend of Turkey’s complete disregard for the rights of minorities and raises a critical question of if Turkey will have a stopping point.

 

About the Authors

Anoush Baghdassarian is a JD Candidate at Harvard Law School. She has a Master’s in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Genocide Studies from Claremont McKenna College. She is Co-founder of the Rerooted Archive, documenting over 200 testimonies from Syrian-Armenian refugees who have fled Syria in the last ten years.  She has a career focus on transitional justice and international criminal law and some of her work experiences include interning as an advisor to the Armenian Permanent Mission to the UN, and serving as an upcoming visiting professional at the International Criminal Court.

Sherin Zadah is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and has worked on international development issues in Jordan and Turkey. Sherin is a humanitarian activist and former State Department intern. She has contributed to the WSJ, has been a guest speaker on NBC San Diego’s political talk and featured on national broadcasts, such as NPR where she spoke on the crisis in northeastern Syria. She is the founder of Kurdish Refugee Relief, a 501c3 non-profit organization committed to serving the needs of Kurdish refugees while creating a growing network of support. 

German Populist AfD Party Uses Moria Fires to Reinvigorate Anti-Refugee Sentiment

By: Guest Contributor Ali Cain. Ali is a M.A. Candidate in the European History, Politics and Society Program at Columbia University. Her MA research analyzes how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the Alternative for Germany Party’s anti-refugee policies and rhetoric. 

The Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) is a far-right populist party that promotes protecting the German identity, traditional family values and climate change denial. Once a fringe party unable to meet the 5% voting threshold to enter the German Parliament, the AfD’s opposition to migration policies and xenophobia has elevated its support. After German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders to one million refugees in 2015, the AfD both seized upon and helped instill fears over cultural differences, crime and violence. The Party’s fearmongering tactics were so successful that it became the third largest party in the German Parliament in the 2017 federal election. 

The AfD continues to be relentless with its attacks upon refugees as exhibited in its response to the recent fires in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. Capitalizing on lingering societal anxiety from the 2015 migration crisis, the AfD criticized the German government for agreeing to take in 1,500 of the 13,000 refugees stranded at Moria. Although it’s unclear whether the fires were set intentionally, the Party argues that refugees started the fires to get to Germany. Currently, AfD’s approval ratings are at their lowest point since the 2017 election as more Germans rebuke populist politicians, especially as there’s increasing support for the Merkel government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear how the AfD’s theories about the Moria fires will impact its support as a recent poll found that the majority of Germans are open to accepting refugees from Moria as long as other European countries do so as well. It’s almost certain, however, that the AfD’s exploitation of the Moria fires will continue to harden xenophobic attitudes and heighten the demonization of refugees.

Moria refugee camp. // creative commons

The AfD’s deprecation of refugees as a central party component is most evident in its transition from an anti-European Union (EU) party to Germany’s leading voice on nativism. Upon its establishment in 2013, the Party opposed  the Eurozone and resisted bailing out neighboring countries during the 2008 economic crisis. Most of its founders and supporters were disaffected members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) who were fiscally conservative and against using German tax-payer funds to help struggling countries like Greece. As refugees increasingly arrived at European shores in 2015, opposition to the Eurozone developed into vehement resistance to the EU and open borders. The AfD’s voter demographics and party leadership shifted to reflect extremely conservative values, including the belief that the German identity was threatened by newcomers. The Party seized on isolated incidents of violence, including migrant attacks on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 and a 2016 terrorist attack by a failed asylum seeker in Berlin, to projecta picture of all refugees as criminals and terrorists. 

By leading the charge against Merkel’s migration policies, the AfD has obtained its highest levels of success yet.  It’s not only the third largest party in the Bundestag but the main opposition party as well. Although the mainstream parties were successful in blocking out the AfD from joining the ruling government coalition, its status grants the Party a bigger public platform and more financial resources. The AfD is additionally represented in all 16 state governments and the European Parliament’s Identity and Democracy Group. Although the AfD’s success is alarming, 2017 may have been the Party’s peak. A recently published study by the Bertelsmann Foundation revealed that only 20% of Germans voters support populism. Although it was concluded that populist support began waning in 2019, the government’s COVID-19 response has recently increased Merkel’s appeal. Her current approval rating is over 70%, compared to 56% in 2019. It was also found, however, that AfD supporters have become more right-wing, signaling that those who remain supporters fully embrace the AfD’s xenophobic, nationalist beliefs. 

The AfD’s Facebook page reflects its deepening shift to the far-right. Its COVID-19 response mimics that of Donald Trump in denying how serious the pandemic is and arguing that mandated mask requirements violate German’s constitutional freedoms. The Party constantly criticizes Merkel, “the Left,” and climate change activists. The AfD also helped encourage anti-coronavirus lockdown protests in Berlin that included the storming of Germany’s Parliament building in late August. The Party’s anti-refugee rhetoric continues to dominate its social media in an attempt to salvage its support among centrist voters. In 2020, the AfD has posted more social media content on migration than on COVID-19. Its Facebook posts on the Moria fires and the government’s response, including claims that Merkel is the “mama of Africans” and is encouraging refugees to start future camp fires, demonstrate that the scapegoating and demonization of refugees remains the Party’s main initiative. Given its decreasing public support, the AfD will continue to exploit the situation for its own political gain just as it has done since 2015.

The Moria fires and the AfD’s response reveals how lack of European unity on migration policies hurts refugees and bolsters populist parties. Advocates have criticized the horrific conditions of the Moria camp for years with no action from the Greek government and the EU. Greece’s pleas for more EU assistance have been consistently put off, increasing strain on the country’s already fragile welfare and economic systems. As a result, the Greeks have become more belligerent in rejecting asylum seekers as demonstrated in reports that authorities forced 1,000 asylum seekers onto inflatable boats and abandoned them in the Mediterranean this past summer.  In the aftermath of the Moria fire, the Greek government blames refugees for arson. 13,000 remain homeless and although Greece said it will build a new reception center, it will take months to do so. Along with Germany, nine other EU countries announced that they will take in 400 refugee children from the fires. This is not enough and will never be enough. 

The European Commission’s release of its Migration Pact on September 23 destroys any lingering hope that there will be a unified European response to migration and emboldens far-right parties like the AfD. Instead of developing mechanisms to enforce mandatory resettlement quotas for all 27 EU member states, the Pact gives states the option to accept refugees or help pay for their deportation to countries of origin or transit. Merkel’s government will face a precarious decision as the AfD may call for Germany to increase its financial contributions for deportations. Additionally, the Pact expands the Dublin Regulation, which mandates that refugees must register for asylum in the country they arrive in. If an asylum seeker has family in an EU member state, they could be relocated there. Given that Germany continues to accept thousands of refugees, it will be responsible for reuniting families if the Pact is approved. The AfD has jumped on the Pact by relying on its traditional culture war narrative that paints refugees as incompatible with the German identity; AfD Federal Spokesman Joerg Meuthen wrote on Facebook, “the new EU Migration Pact is a fight against our entire western way of life, welfare state, freedom, and Christian culture.” The AfD, along with other European far-right parties, started a petition against the Pact and are arguing that the EU is trying to replace the “people of Europe” with refugees and migrants.  

COVID-19 has so far helped decrease support for populist parties in Europe. However, migration issues, such as the Moria fires, may revitalize the AfD’s appeal at home. The 2021 federal elections and Merekl’s planned departure grant the AfD an opportunity to increase its power in the Bundestag and participate in a coalition government. The Party’s nativism will only increase and put more refugees and migrants at risk.

Why the EU Should Reconsider Renegotiating the 2016 EU-Turkey Migration Deal

Guest Contributor Ali Cain is an M.A. Candidate in the European History, Politics and Society Program at Columbia University. She is additionally the Program Coordinator for the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR). Her research interests include populism, refugee rights and transatlantic relations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used over 4 million refugees in Turkey as political blackmail against the European Union (EU). Leveraging the 2016 EU-Turkey Migration Deal, Erdogan has consistently threatened to “open the floodgates” and allow refugees to cross into neighboring Greece whenever his demands are not  met. Previous demands have included quicker EU accession talks, European support for a refugee safe zone in northern Syria, and more funding to support refugees.

 In late February 2020, Russian and Syrian government forces attacked the Syrian province of Idlib, forcing thousands to flee into northwest Turkey. In response, Erdogan finally fulfilled his threats and allowed thousands of refugees to leave, even providing buses for transportation to the Greek border. Upon arrival, refugees were greeted with tear gas, barricades and shouts to go back home. Videos later surfaced of the Greek Coast Guard circling refugee boats in what looked like an effort to both deter them from landing but also capsize them. The New York Times further reported that the Greek Coast Guard beat migrants with sticks and shot at them, resulting in the death of a Syrian refugee. Worryingly, the EU’s willpower and ability to address this crisis and reinvigorate the discussion over modifications to Europe’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is substantially reduced as it now faces the surmounting challenge of tackling COVID-19. 

In discussing this new migration crisis, the EU has taken a defensive position in calling for the protection of Europe’s borders. Instead of using this opportunity to reinitiate a conversation on a “fresh start” for Europe’s asylum system as she advocated for during her consideration for EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen instead commended Greece for being Europe’s shield and offered its government €700 million ($769,968,000) of aid, €350 million ($384,984,000) of which would go to strengthening Greece’s border control. While offering support to Greece, Ms. von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel also visited Turkey to discuss renegotiating the 2016 EU-Turkey Migration Deal. At the height of the 2015 refugee crisis, the EU and Turkey agreed that each individual who arrived at the Greek border by boat and/or without official permission would be returned to Turkey, as it is considered a safe country for “irregular” migrants. In exchange for every individual sent to Turkey, a Syrian would be accepted into an EU member state. The EU initially agreed to provide €3 billion ($3,299,860,000) of assistance to the Turkish government to fund on-the-ground projects for refugees. 

Since the agreement was finalized, Erdogan has demanded more funding and the EU has obliged, increasing its contributions to €6 billion ($6,599,720,000) and extending its support of projects until 2025. Other parts of the deal have faltered; the EU agreed to visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and a reinvigoration of accession discussions regarding Turkey joining the EU. However, there has been little movement on both of these commitments due to Erdogan’s growing usurpation of power which has led to an increased crackdown on opposition, heightened violence towards the Kurdish community, and greater involvement in the Syrian conflict. The EU has additionally failed to accept its agreed exchange of Syrian refugees. Only 27,000 have been resettled since 2016. 

Many European governments would see the original agreement as a logistical success given that its goal was to deter refugees from coming to Europe. Yet, although migration from Turkey has fallen by 97%, a crisis still remains. Turkey is growing increasingly unsafe for refugees. The renegotiation of this deal would allow Erdogan to continue fostering an unsafe environment, pressure Europe into more funding, infringe on refugee’s human rights and further challenge Europe’s human rights commitments. 

First and foremost, Turkey does not meet and will not meet the EU’s standards for accession. Since a 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan has made Turkey, which was once applauded as a successful Muslim democracy, into an increasingly authoritarian state. Following the coup, he fired thousands of government workers, educators, and military members and arrested many of them for “anti-state” crimes. He then issued a referendum in 2017, allowing him to consolidate executive power by controlling elections, intervening in the judiciary, and appointing ministers directly. This power grab led to international outcry, including from the EU who referred to the constitutional changes as a “big setback for democracy.”  

Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian state is best exemplified in its status as the biggest jailer of journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists and its ranking as “not free” by Freedom House. Erdogan’s actions clearly violate Europe’s commitment to human rights and its principles for the accession process; any previous reforms that satisfied the EU’s conditions for membership should now be considered completely null and void. Therefore, a renegotiation of this deal that commits to reassessing Turkish accession is not only woefully misguided but jeopardizes the human rights standards and legal commitments the EU is obligated to uphold. 

Second, refugees in Turkey are facing increasingly hostile conditions due to rising unemployment and growing xenophobia that conflict with Turkey’s status as a safe country. There are over 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. 64% of those living in Turkish cities are living at or below the poverty line because it is extremely challenging for refugees to obtain working permits. Unemployment in Turkey is now at 13%. 

This had contributed to an increase in xenophobic sentiment among Turkish society. It has been reported that 60-80% of Turks  want Syrian refugees out. Violence has begun to occur, with Syrian owned stores being attacked in July 2019 after a false rumor about a Syrian sexually assaulting a minor was circulated. The hashtag #ÜlkemdeSuriyeliIstemiyorum (I don’t want Syrians in my country) has become prominent throughout Turkish social media. 

This public pressure, as well as the clear strain on Turkey’s social services, has led to increased deportations. There is a lack of accountability in ensuring asylum procedures are lawfully carried out. Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and is therefore required to not only protect refugees but also uphold the international legal principle of non-refoulment which mandates that refugees cannot be sent back to countries where they will face human rights violations.  A 2019 investigation by Refugees International found that Turkish authorities were increasingly stopping Syrian refugees to check their identification papers and accelerating deportations to Syria, many of which were forced returns. Furthermore, Erdogan has sought to resettle Syrian refugees in a “safe zone” controlled by American backed Kurdish forces. Many have criticized this plan, including the Europeans. A resettlement in northern Syria, where violence continues, not only threatens refugees but also enflames Turkey’s tensions with the Kurds. Although this plan is at a stand-still, Erdogan continues to seek out and demand support, using his release of refugees into Europe as political bait.  

Finally, the 2016 deal has allowed for conditions to also worsen for refugees in Greece. Those who arrived in Greece following the agreement were prohibited from crossing into mainland Europe, resulting in refugees having to seek asylum in Greece or face immediate deportation to Turkey. Because the deal mandates that all of those who fail to qualify for asylum be deported, Greek authorities must detain everyone who is considered to have entered Greece irregularly, which has led to overcrowding in detention centers. An estimated 40,000 people live in facilities built for 6,000. Conditions in these camps are dire; Amnesty International reported those detained on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios had “no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their status or possible fate.” The Greek islands have thus become a prison of both limbo and inhumane living conditions for asylum seekers. According to the New York Times, Greece has detained migrants at secret detention centers and is sending them to Turkey without any due process on their asylum claims. Although Greece does have the right to detain those who enter its borders, it is nevertheless obliged by international law to give each asylum applicant a fair and timely consideration. 

Additionally, the European Commission announced it would offer €2,000 ($2,199) to those living in Greek detention camps who voluntarily agreed to return home. Although the Commission stated that the intended recipients of this funding are economic migrants and not refugees, poor camp conditions and severely delayed asylum decisions could put pressure on refugees to return to their home countries. It is also questionable how many economic migrants are in Greece, considering that most individuals are from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead of trying to buy out migrants in returning home to potentially unstable states, the Commission could instead use its funding to better improve the living conditions in detention facilities and support Greece’s government in processing its asylum applications more efficiently. 

Turkey’s concerns about the refugee crisis  are not totally unfounded as it is the largest host country in the world. Considerable strain has been placed on its social services and its population. Hosting four million refugees in a country that is struggling economically is not an easy task. However, growing anti-refugee sentiment and the subsequent harms to the refugee population in the country is one of many clear signals that the EU should not renegotiate its 2016 deal with Turkey. Rather, steps ought to be taken to address the structural causes of such a high number of refugees forced to leave their homes. The EU should not allow itself to continue to be in Erdogan’s chokehold; by continuing its “payer not player” status in using funds as a conflict resolution mechanism instead of diplomacy and mediation, the EU is helping to prolong violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the world is currently occupied with COVID-19, and rightfully so, the EU will have to return to its discussion on migration reform eventually.  When it does, it has moral and legal obligations to protect refugees and to figure out a solution that is dependent on European states and international law, not Erdogan’s will. 

The Tibetan Model of Resistance: Human Rights in Tibet

Guest Contributor Divya Malhotra is pursuing her Ph.D. from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, New Delhi where she monitors and documents Pakistan-Middle East relations. Her areas of interest include human rights studies. Her writing has appeared in the Times of Israel blog. 

The world today is riddled with violence and conflict. Countries across Asia and Africa are engaged in a perpetual struggle for political and religious autonomy and self-determination. Be it West Asia’s Arab Spring, Israeli-Palestinian conflict over land, the Baloch and Pashtun separatist movements in Pakistan, or the turmoil in Kashmir, violence has become accepted as a status-quo in these areas. However, one community’s struggle for separation has had an intriguingly peaceful and spiritual dimension: the Tibetan resistance movement.     

Historical Background

The Tibetan independence movement is a political movement for the independence of Tibet and the political separation of Tibet from China. It has been principally been led by the Tibetan Diaspora across the globe. In 1950, China’s People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet, marking the beginning of their struggle for self-determination. In May 1951, the agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was signed in Beijing, giving Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, control over Tibet’s internal affairs. The tensions between both sides continued and in July 1956, Qimai Gongbo, headman of Tibet’s Gyamda County, led a rebellion against the Chinese government. In 1956, the Dalai Lama reached New Delhi via Sikkim where his elder brother Norbo joined him after his trip from the US. As per Chen’s account, Norbo advised the Dalai Lama to either lead the Tibetan struggle from India or the US. The Lama, however, returned to Lhasa to lead his people. 

In March 1959, China brutally suppressed mass uprisings in Tibet, leaving 545 Tibetan rebels dead and over 4,800 wounded. “We only lived to kill the Chinese”, recalls one Tibetan veteran, hinting at the essentially violent character of the freedom movement. At the outset of the brutal uprising in 1959, fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama and his entourage fled Tibet with the help of the CIA, crossing into India in March and reaching Tezpur in Assam on 18 April. Eventually he set up the Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala, India, popularly known as “Little Lhasa“. 

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), headquartered in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, was established in 1960 as the “sole and legitimate government” of Tibetans. The CTA was authorised to look after the immediate and long-term needs of Tibetan people with special focus on seven major areas, namely, religion and culture, home affairs, finance, security, education, health, and International Relations. Under this charter and structure, the series of institutions run by the Dalai Lama have been creative, constructive and productive in nature.  

The Tibetan flag, adopted by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1916 and used in official capacity through 1951. Since then, it is used only by the Government in Exile and is symbolic of an ongoing freedom movement.

After the founding of the government in exile, he re-established the approximately 80,000 Tibetan refugees who followed him into exile in agricultural settlements. The Tibetan struggle has not been at rest since then, as has also been well documented by famous authors including Qingying Chen, Brazinsky and Melvyn Goldstein

Two external players have been important to the Tibetan struggle during its infancy; India – which offered an alternate home to the Tibetan community in exile and the US, as elaborated by Qingying Chen in his detailed treatise “Tibetan History”. With the principal intention of containing Communist China, the intelligence agency is believed to have channelled annual amount of USD 1.7 million for anti-China operations, including USD 180,000 annual subsidy for the Dalai Lama. As per Gregg Brazinsky, Kennedy and Johnson administration offered continued support to Tibetan rebels, and two “Tibet houses” were established in New York and Geneva to coordinate with Tibetan leadership. Washington and Delhi’s support to Tibet was perhaps motivated by anti-Beijing sentiments and respective geopolitical interests. The US support was helpful till the 1990s, but after the fall of communism in 1989, the American policy toward China changed and “they stopped their help”. Nevertheless, their support came handy for the fragile Tibetan movement. 

Characteristics of the Movement

While most of the other global secessionist movements have focused on training militia and perpetuating violence, this movement has essentially had a spiritual dimension to it. The Dalai Lama guided and led his people in a profound and positive manner. For any political movement, the personality of the leader is instrumental to shaping the struggle. By that logic, the Dalai Lama’s positive personal spiritual aura has also spilled over into the Tibetan resistance movement. Although he holds immense influence for Tibetans and their politics, the Dalai Lama still sees himself as a “simple Buddhist monk” and not a political leader. His day starts at 3 in the morning and ends at 7 in the evening: a reflection of his simplistic and pristine lifestyle. Yet, he continues to mentor a seven decades old freedom struggle and his political views revolve around the notion of democracy. In his own words, “No system of government is perfect, but democracy is closest to our essential human nature. So it is in all our interests that those of us who already enjoy democracy should actively support everybody’s right to do so.”

Labelled as a “brilliant master of this elusive modern equilibrium”, the Dalai Lama is an enigma. In his book The Open road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Pico Iyer beautifully articulates how the Dalai Lama spends his day “meditating on the roots of compassion and what he can do for his people, the Chinese brothers and sisters who are holding his people hostage” and at the same time, continues his spiritual journey. 

Instead of defining his people’s struggle in terms of “Good Tibetans, bad Chinese”, the Dalai Lama, with an essentially positive prism, sees the issue as a struggle between “Potentially good Tibetans, potentially good Chinese”. In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his approach to Tibetan liberation. It won’t be wrong to state that the Dalai Lama always emphasized on non-violence and practises of meditation, yoga and spirituality for protecting human rights.

Introspection, meditation, spirituality and peaceful mediation have been at the core of the movement. Even though the Dalai Lama retired from his position of the political head of Tibetan people in 2011, his ideas and ideals continue to define the movement. Human rights violations have been documented in Tibet, where Chinese authorities continue to restrict and refrain the people from expressing their support for freedom. There have been cases of arrest and self-immolations. Yet the struggle in itself has been devoid of the massive bloodshed and violence which dominates and depicts the struggle of other communities in the rest of the Asian subcontinent. Tough, resilient and persistent, the community has not given up on its demands in accordance with the Dalai Lama’s peaceful ethics.  

Despite the armed uprisings in the beginning and continued violent suppression by Chinese authorities, the resistance movement in Tibet has been relatively peaceful in nature, following the Dalai Lama’s peace oriented approach. However one may wonder whether this approach to secession has yielded any tangible gains? A basic overview clearly indicates that the Tibetan struggle has not reaped any concrete benefits. The number of casualties varies from a few thousands to millions, based on different data sources. However at a comparative level, what have the Palestinians, the Balochs, the Pashtuns and the Kashmiris gained by adopting violence? All these communities, allegedly suppressed by the powerful regimes, have not made much notable territorial or political gains either way.     

Amidst perpetual conflict and bloodshed, the peaceful nature of the Tibetan struggle, because of the Dalai Lama’s influence, is an inspiration to a new generation. Perhaps if the world were to follow a Tibetan model of struggle, logic and peace will prevail while giving everyone a chance to express their dissent without harming the others.   

A State’s Responsibility in an Epidemic: Human Rights and the Coronavirus Outbreak

Guest Contributors Bodhisattwa Majumder and Devashish Giri are penultimate year students at Maharashtra Law University Mumbai. Their interests include Constitutional Law, Public International law and Maritime law. Any discussion related to the paper can be made via mail at bodhisattwa@mnlumumbai.edu.in or Giridevashish15@gmail.com

The outbreak of Coronavirus or COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) from Wuhan, China (“People’s Republic of China “) has engulfed as many as twenty four countries across the globe with a medical emergency and has claimed more than 3,800 lives as of now. 

This strain of the virus is graver than the other types of Coronaviruses as it has never been identified in humans before. Coronavirus belongs to the zoonotic group of viruses which can affect a human being with a range of health ailments ranging from the common cold to serious problems such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The World Health Organization and other countries including the US have declared it as a “Global Public Health Emergency”.  In order to restrict the transmission of the virus, however, China has taken various restrictive measures which have caused serious human rights violations including but not limited to arbitrary censorships, lockdowns, quarantines, police suppression, and mass detentions.

In outbreaks of viruses with communicable properties, response time in communicating information and alerting the public and world about the dangers of the virus is of the essence. Even a delay of a month can have a huge impact; in the absence of proper information, crowded public places act as the hub for transmission. 

Early on in the outbreak of Coronavirus, citizens of China were deprived of their freedom of expression and free speech. The Wuhan province was under strict observation by the Chinese government, and any information related to the outbreak was termed as mere “rumours” and prohibited from being shared across any social media platform. There were numerous reported instances of police suppression when doctors, nurses and other associated personnel working in the frontlines faced strict penal measures by the police on grounds of spreading the information related to the virus.

 It was only due to a brave whistleblower, Chinese Dr. Li Wenliang, who risked his own safety and livelihood to spread news of the outbreak in Wuhan to his alumni peers via WeChat, that the world was able to learn about this dangerous phenomenon that China had tried to keep under wraps. He sent his message on December 30, and China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about its outbreak on December 31. Since January 1, researchers have learned that China has been censoring WeChat accounts for words related to the Cornonavirus, blocking certain combinations or anything negative towards President Xi Jinping.  Furthermore, China placed the entire affected province under lockdown without any prior notice, which deprived the residents any chance to ensure the availability of basic amenities of life such as food and medicine. Such a measure has affected vulnerable populations of society, including those with disabilities, illness, and the elderly and deprived them of their essential needs. These are direct violations to their right to health. There has been a mass-quarantine process of millions of people for the cause of limiting the spread from the city of Wuhan. Any offering measure by any section of society be it, Lawyers, Activists or Artists, has been prohibited, censored, threatened and harassed by the organs of the government. Despite having strict regulations against discrimination regarding communicable diseases, the machinery has apparently failed.

Coronavirus has not limited itself to Chinese province and other South-East Asian states have been affected, although not every state has adopted measures which violate human rights. Amidst the Chaos, the approach of Singapore has been a silver lining, which has won praises for its benevolence and informative approach rather than an authoritarian one. Singapore’s approach has been direct and effective to reduce panic, rumours and conspiracy theories, aligning itself correctly with the statement of the Prime Minister which was posted on social media in three languages, “Fear can do more harm than the virus itself. The speech alone was proven effective as the following weekend witnessed a reduction in crowds in the city-state. The Singaporean approach included prevention, contact tracing, quarantine and access to information. Singapore’s official website of the Ministry of Communications and Information provided useful and practical advisories on topics such as ‘When to See a Doctor’, ‘What happens to suspect cases’ and ‘How to practice good personal hygiene’. The approach of Singapore prioritized the welfare and safety of citizens over political stability and economic costs, which won praise across the world. Singapore was among the most affected regions of Asia (Orange alert). Still, it chose to inform its citizens rather than bury the situation. The constant live news coverage, transparency about developments, and inclusion of health workers in planning has proved to be effective in controlling the situation and reducing  panic among citizens. 

Public International Law dictates that regardless of a health emergency or an epidemic, the measures taken to affect human rights should be legal, necessary, reasonable and proportional. Every measure must be recorded in evidence and there should be strict adherence to the procedure prescribed. An undemocratic regime leaves no scope for a consequence to the state for failures in terms of epidemic response and as a result, there is no accountability from the state. The people residing in affected areas are shunned out without any scope for the expression of dissent or discontent or even a cry for help from the international community. Human rights cannot be allowed to be violated under the garb of a health emergency and every nation should take a lesson from the incident of the Coronavirus outbreak. The priority of taking measures to restrict the outbreak lies in equal pedestal with the significance of following due process without depriving the people of their human rights. The international community needs to take a stand, and every response from a government during the outbreak of an epidemic or a pandemic must be within the four corners of human rights.

A Fresh Start in EU Migration Policy: Re-examining the Dublin Regulation

Guest Contributor Ali Cain is an M.A. Candidate in the European History, Politics and Society Program at Columbia University. She is additionally the Program Coordinator for the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR). Her research interests include populism, refugee rights and transatlantic relations.

During her 2019 candidacy for European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen proposed a New Pact on Migration and Asylum to “relaunch the Dublin reform of asylum rules.” Ms. von der Leyen is correct: Europe’s asylum system needs a fresh start. The Dublin Regulation III mandates that asylum seekers register upon arrival in the first European Union (EU) member state he or she enters. At the refugee crisis’ peak in 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe. Many traveled through the Mediterranean Sea, designating Italy and Greece as first ports of entry and, therefore, responsible for processing asylum claims. The influx of asylum seekers has led to immense strains on local governments, inciting animosity against refugees and creating a significant backlog of asylum decisions. 

According to Politico, there is a backlog of 90,000 asylum cases in Greece alone. The Greek government recently released a plan to create a “floating wall” to block migration routes on the Aegean Sea and will soon begin construction of closed detention centers that will limit the movement of asylum seekers. At a press conference on February 27, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis explicitly told those who do not qualify for international protection to “not come to Greece”, and warned that they will remain stuck on the islands until they are returned home. Although Greece’s treatment of refugees is appalling, their actions and rhetoric towards refugees demonstrates the depths of desperation which border states are being driven to due to EU inaction. To complicate issues further, the EU received its highest numbers of asylum applications since 2015; the European Asylum Support Office reported that 714,2000 applications were received in 2019. Future migration crises are inevitable, especially given climate change as an increasingly central driver of forced displacement. Commission President von der Leyen must prioritize the reform of the Dublin Regulation to create a cohesive asylum process in Europe. 

The Dublin Convention was created in 1997 in response to the Schengen Zone’s development. Under the Convention and its succeeding regulations, geographic arrival points determine state responsibility for refugees. The number of refugees already present in a state are not taken into consideration when determining relocation destinations or places of stay during the processing of asylum applications. Although the Dublin Framework includes rights for refugees that are already solidified under international law, including family unification and speedy asylum decisions, those rights are not enforced equally among EU member states. Following the 2015 refugee crisis, the EU began to discuss reforming the Dublin system to include burden-sharing measures and increased human rights protections. The European Commission proposed a reallocation quota determined by each country’s population and gross domestic product (GDP). The European Parliament suggested amendments to the Commission’s proposal also to include family reunification and prior residence/study in relocation decisions. The European Council must decide whether to implement burden-sharing provisions, but has been divided on the best way to actually relocate refugees since December 2018. The Visegrád countries – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – have refused to accept refugees or abide by quotas.

As a result of Council gridlock, member states have relied heavily on third-party agreements to curb migration. These agreements have been successful in achieving the EU’s overall goal of curbing migration but pose threats to human rights and are not sustainable in the long-term. Although the EU’s 2016 deal with Turkey led to a 97% decrease in migration from Turkey to Greece, 3RP reported that over 64% of the 3.6 million refugees living in Turkey are living in poverty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans for the “voluntary” resettlement of refugees in a “peace zone” in Northern Syria. Pushing refugees to return to Syria would violate non-refoulement standards under international law, which mandates that a host country cannot return asylum seekers to a country where they would be in danger or would be persecuted. Furthermore, President Erdogan announced on February 27, 2020 that Turkish authorities will not prohibit Syrian refugees from leaving Turkey to go to Europe, as Turkey is facing an influx of Syrian refugees from Idlib due to recent attacks by the Assad government and Russia. This recent announcement demonstrates the precise issue with third-party agreements: they provide short term reprive for host countries but kick the can of dealing with refugees down the road at refugees’ expense.  

The EU-Turkey deal also has implications for those already in Europe. For example, thousands of refugees are stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos as the EU-Turkey agreement prohibits their arrival on mainland Greece. Most recently, protests against inhumane living conditions broke out at the Moria refugee camp, where 20,000 refugees are cramped into facilities built to house 3,000 individuals. These conditions, which are common in many refugee camps throughout Europe, infringe on basic human rights secured under international conventions, including the 1951 Refugee Convention.  The EU’s 2015 Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has decreased economic factors that encourage migration from Africa by providing over 50,000 jobs and improving living standards. However, as explained in a recent Oxfam report, European investment in specific countries and regions is tied to migration levels stemming from each origin country. Addressing underlying societal issues like poverty and inequality, and political issues like corruption is not tied to aid. The EU also increasingly has depended upon the Libyan Coast Guard for search and rescue (SAR) missions, which intercept boats and return passengers to Libya. Those sent back to Libya face torture and trafficking in detention centers run by both the government and militias. Forced returns to Libya also violates the principle of non-refoulement.

A report released by the European Council on Foreign Relations argues that member states may now be more open to asylum relocations and burden sharing. In July 2019, fourteen states signed a solidarity mechanism, pledging to relocate migrants across the EU. In September 2019, Italy’s staunchly anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini was recently replaced by migration specialist Luciana Lamorgese in September 2019. Italy’s migration policies have already begun to change as private charity’s boats can now dock at Italian ports. Additionally, a recent European Council on Foreign Relations survey found that a majority of EU citizens no longer see migration as the most pressing issue of concern. Instead, survey respondents reported “health, housing unemployment, and living costs as standout issues.” Although it is easy to get caught up in the pessimism of current EU affairs, all European countries can agree that the current system under the Dublin Regulation is not working. A November 2019 EU Council Presidency report acknowledges the importance of the EU speaking in one voice about migration and concludes that “the more members states have the perception that EU legislation is meeting their concrete needs and taking into account their administrative realities, the more likely it is that the implementation will be successful.” The new Commission’s expressed interest in reforming the CEAS and the designation of €949 million ($1,039,120,000) to the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund presents an opportunity for reform. The EU has also pledged 30.8 billion ($41,608,700,000) for immigration and border control issues in the 2021-2027 budget.  Furthermore, the conclusion of Brexit provides a pivotal moment for the remaining 27 member states to reestablish the EU’s joint efforts and cohesiveness.

Migration is one of the most complicated and emotionally-driven issues to nation-states, as it heightens various concerns regarding economic and cultural security. The EU’s current approach in relying on third-party agreements, increasing general border control, and remaining gridlocked over how to better distribute refugees throughout Europe is a significant problem. Border states, especially Greece, and larger financially stable states like Germany, cannot be solely responsible for asylum seekers. The European Commission must push states to reopen discussions and negotiations on reforming the Dublin Regulation.

The Lost World of Moldova: Corruption and Human Rights

Guest Contributor: Ararat Osipian is the Alexander Mirtchev Visiting Professor and Scholar at the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, Fellow of the Institute of International Education, and Fellow of the New University in Exile Consortium, USA. His research interests include corruption, inequalities in access to education, and sexual harassment.

Recent events in Moldova, including the political turmoil and the fight against corruption, sometimes become reminiscent of a witch-hunt. For Moldova, the story is not so new, as the pro-European Union Moldovan Parliament has been fighting pro-Russian President Igor Dodon for years. For the world, this is just a storm in a teacup. According to the locals, Moldova’s fight against corruption is mostly for resources and economic assets that may be accessed through the use of state power. Some of the formative results of such a fight are arrests on charges of corruption. Due to the anti-corruption campaign, some individuals prefer to leave the country. Vladimir Plahotniuc, a self-exiled Moldovan politician, businessman, philanthropist, and allegedly richest man in the country, reportedly landed in Miami.

A land-locked country of less than three million, Moldova looks like a lost world. Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union took place three decades ago, most scenery in Moldova is grey Soviet concrete. Despite the visual sleepiness, the country has significant internal political divisions, including the breakaway province of Transnistria. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and a significant part of the national income comes from money remittances from abroad. Moldovans work in Russia and the European Union countries. While President Dodon has a pro-Russian attitude, the ruling party is oriented toward the EU. As a result, Moldova is akin to Buridan’s ass, stacked between the EU and Russia. Some citizens want to have closer ties with the EU or even be absorbed by Romania, while others prefer good relations with Russia. Such preferences largely depend on where people earn their living as day laborers: in the EU or in Russia.

Central square in Chiasnu, location of mass protests against increasing the President’s power through Constitutional reform.

Moldovans seem to believe that they should take part in political life of the country, yet are not sure that they will have any real impact on the way things are done. For instance, on June 11, 2017, I observed mass protests on the central square in Chisinau. Primarily, the protests were focused on a suggested constitutional reform that would give the President more power. Supporters of the change say having legislators represent particular constituencies would enhance the link between parliament and voters. Opponents say it is an attempt to skew the electoral system in favor of the ruling political party. 

Protesters moved as a procession to the front of the Parliament, totaling around three to five thousand. There were plenty of Moldovian flags and not much else in terms of posters and other visual materials. In general, protesters were very peaceful, chanting slogans such as “we will not surrender!” and blowing vuvuzelas, horns commonly used in soccer games by fans. Around two hundred police security forces maintained law and order by…. Before the leaders of the protest made speeches, there was a concert on the stairs of the Parliament. Overall, the whole event was very classically Soviet in style. 

Moldova’s political divide finds its reflection in public spaces throughout Chisinau, including in the form of graffiti, inscriptions and signs. Moldova’s Union with Romania is the most popular theme of such inscriptions. Moldova borders Romania, the EU member, while both countries speak Romanian language and many Moldovans hold Romanian citizenship in addition to their Moldavian citizenship. As a consequence, the President has recently introduced a suggestion to outlaw any advertisements of Unionism in an attempt to curb protesters’ access to public space to convey their complaints. In addition to walls, the giant stairs near the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters that lead to Valea Morilor Park are also used for political inscriptions. One such inscription reads in English, “#Save Donbass from Ukraine’s Army”, a reminder of the on-going hybrid war in neighboring country Ukraine. On the opposite side of the stairs, the inscription reads “Basarabia Romaneasca”.

Similar to other former socialist countries, Moldova has corruption aplenty. The situation with corruption in Moldova is rather dynamic. Upon my arrival in the country, the Mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, was under house arrest and the ex-deputy prosecutor general was arrested as well, both on charges of corruption. These were not isolated incidences. While I was in Chisinau, the former Deputy Minister of the Interior and the judge of Chisinau city court were both arrested on charges of corruption. The arrests that took place while I was in the country were only the latest of many in a wave of anti-corruption arrests that rolled through the country in Spring of 2017. Prior to 2017, Moldova’s Vice- Minister of Economy and Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry were also arrested on corruption-related charges. The education sector, too, has been touched by the Moldavian government’s war against corruption. The list of educational administrators arrested in the case of falsified tenders on kindergarten meals includes daughter and son-in-law of advisor to the Minister of Education.

It is surprising that despite the government’s declaratory “war against corruption,” there are only a handful of scholarly works on corruption in Moldova. In fact, the National Library has only three sources on corruption in Moldova available in Russian language. One is a monograph on corruption and organized crime. Another source is a journal article. Finally, there is a collection of conference reports on academic corruption, published a decade ago. This collection comprises twenty-nine scholarly articles. Of these articles, sixteen are in Russian, twelve are in Romanian, and one is in English. The first and second articles in the collection are authored by the President of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Minister of the Interior, respectively. This is done in best Soviet traditions. Other authors include the ex-Minister of Justice and the acting rector of the Ismail Institute of Water Transport. It is clear that the authors of the papers published in this collection recognize that education in Moldova is one of the sectors most affected by corruption, and discuss it. Unfortunately, an anti-corruption campaign in Moldavian academia is not on the top of the government’s political agenda and “war against corruption”.

My findings from my fieldwork conducted in Moldova allow for some initial generalizations. My fieldwork in Moldova in June 2017 was essentially a small pilot project, ethnographic in its nature, aimed at getting to know the social environment in the country. This study employed several methods to investigate higher education corruption in Moldova. These included archival research, media sources, review of the scholarly literature, informal conversations with students, former students, faculty, simple empirical observations, and, of course, listening to other people’s conversations. I kept a diary and took notes.

 The respondents clearly understand the harm of academic corruption. The overall position of the respondents is that there is plenty of corruption in Moldova’s higher education institutions, including Moldova State University. This corruption often takes the form of bribery, embezzlement, fraud, and student absenteeism. The Student Alliance Against Corruption at Moldova State University is a manifestation of student activism, an attempt to exercise the power of collective action against corruption. But catching a corrupt faculty member may actually result in nothing. Similar to most countries, Moldova exercises presumption of innocence: not guilty until proven in court and sentenced. Even if a faculty member is caught red-handed while accepting a bribe, they will not lose their job until sentenced in court. However, such a case is not likely to even reach the court, as they are usually destroyed in the process of investigation because of corruption. In my research, it was evident that faculty members have some ideas about ethical conduct, or at least they know the term itself. However, for many, adherence to a personal ethical standard is threatened by the external pressures many faculty members face. For instance, a faculty member in the cafeteria at Moldova State University explained to me that she has ethical standards and is a law-abiding citizen, but there is pressure on her.

In addition to corruption in academia, there are clear disciplinary issues. I observed one such incident in front of the main entrance to the central administrative building. A faculty member—male, in his late 30s—asked a male student accompanied by his two friends to stop smoking. Smoking on campus is allowed only in designated areas. In response, the students told him to “go his own way,” which resulted in a verbal altercation. The faculty member reminded the students:  “By the way, the fine is 1200 lei” (equivalent to 60 Euros). This is equal to half of the average monthly salary in Moldova, so although with good intentions its is likely that he simply made up the sum on the fly. The student responded with “Call the cops” and refused to name himself. The faculty member threatened to find out the student’s identity by seeing the student during an examination. The student simply ignored him and remarked with irony “Yeah, you got me.” 

The student’s response to an authority figure is typical of the Soviet mentality of ignoring the rules, popularly formulated as “beat the state.” There are “No smoking” posters on campus, but students sometimes smoke right in front of them. Despite the ban on smoking inside the buildings, male restrooms are filled with cigarette butts. Since there are very few students, they are not afraid of the faculty and administrators. State funding is tied to the number of students, and thus the university needs students more than students need the university. This is a typical situation in the entire former Soviet bloc.

Hotel Chiasnu

Moldova State University is located on a small Soviet campus, although well-maintained. The main university building is partially renovated, but still far from ideal. There are large advertisement posters both inside and outside campus buildings, with job opportunities in marketing and sales, discounts on mobile phones, the sale of mountain bikes, etc. Some student dormitories are renovated as well, but most have not seen any repair since the Soviet era. The state of decay, so visible in the city’s architecture, has its impact on the academic community too. One example of such an impact was the need to change the hotel for a visiting professor from France. They initially booked Hotel Chisinau, located in downtown, for this visiting professor. However, due to the eerie looking surroundings and especially unsafe underground passage under the United Nations Square, they had to place her in another hotel. Next to the hotel is the National Academy of Sciences of Moldova. Across the street is Hotel National, now an abandoned concrete ghost. Formerly Hotel Inturist, built during the Soviet era to serve foreign tourists, this hotel no longer houses anyone.

With only 11,000 visitors a year, Moldova is the least visited country in Europe. The lost world, indeed. To be precise, the abandoned hotel in the center of the capital is not exactly empty. The hotel does not house anyone legally, as there are no guests or foreign tourists. There are, however, dozens of homeless children living within these bare concrete walls. They beg and steal on the streets during the day, and come to the ghost hotel at night. There are also drug addicts sharing the quarters with homeless children. Immoral behavior and sexual abuse of minors a wide possibility. On one occasion, three underage children were hospitalized in critical condition to a local clinic with poisoning-like symptoms, most likely due to inhaling glue. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get “high.” The state authorities are unable and unwilling to cope with the crisis due to extremely high levels of corruption. Instead of protecting human rights of minors, they find ways to close remaining orphanages and supply the street and criminal gangs with more homeless children.