Archive for international law

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. 

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.

Erosion of the Right to Freedom in Kashmir: How India Violated Established Principles of Constitutional and International Law

Guest Contributor Bhaskar Kumar is a 3rd year student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. His areas of interest include criminal justice, human rights, constitutionalism and international law. He writes for a number of platforms including law review blogs and media platforms like The Hindu, Live law JILS-NUJS etc.

In anticipation of unrest after altering the special constitutional status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government detained several political leaders and imposed a broad restriction on freedom of movement and press in August 2019.  

These restrictions were imposed in the aftermath of abolishing article 370 of Indian Constitution. This article was part of the Constitution of India which provided special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. By virtue of this article, the people of Jammu and Kashmir used to enjoy some privileges including exclusive property rights. 

The government justified this amendment by considering it a step that ensures the complete integration of the state into the Union of India and to have better control over the territory in order to curb terrorist activities allegedly taking place there.

By imposing section 144 of Criminal Procedure code (1973), the government banned public meetings and shut down the internet and phone services completely which consequently disrupted news and information services. With this step, the government of India has violated the right of freedom guaranteed under article 19 of Indian constitution which protects citizens’ right to freedom of movement, assemble peacefully without arms and press until and unless security of state, sovereignty or interests of the general public is at stake. When such concerns are at stake the government might impose reasonable restrictions over enjoyment of these rights.

In the present case, however, the measures taken by the government of India cannot be said to put reasonable restrictions on the enjoyment of these rights in light of numerous judgments delivered by the apex court. In Indian Express Newspapers v Union of India(1985) 1 SCC 641, the Supreme Court held that freedom of press is crucial to communicate facts and opinions which educate people about political establishments and hence, there cannot be any interference with that freedom in the name of public interest. In the present scenario, due to imposition of restrictions, newspapers are not able to operate or circulate their services. This amounts to an infringement of the right to freedom of expression.

While stressing the importance of the freedom of the press, the Apex court in Dinesh Trivedi v Union of India held that citizens have the right to know about government decisions and actions. But citizens can only know government’s decisions and restrictions when they have access to media sources. In Sakal papers pvt. ltd. v Union of India the Supreme Court observed that the right to freedom of speech entails the right to circulate one’s views to all whom one can reach and care to reach and courts must be vigilant of any kind of restriction over such circulation of views in order to preserve the democratic ethos. 

Due to the imposition of a curfew in Kashmir and the presence of a large number of military personnel, it is impossible for a journalist to cover the news about the prevailing conditions due to imposition of section 144 CrPC. According to its managing editor, the Kashmir Times, a leading newspaper of state, has only been able to publish a minute version of its editions because of restrictions. The imposition of section 144 has made it almost impossible for journalists to carry on their duties.


In Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra the apex court ruled that section 144 of CrPC can only be imposed when there is an actual prominent threat endangering public order and tranquility which has not been ensured by government before imposing the curfew. The Internet has also been shut down and the circulation of information has been impossible because of this. The Government of India has ruthlessly interfered with the freedom of press and information. The mandate of article 19 doesn’t give the unbridled power to governments to impose restriction merely on the grounds of speculation and anticipation. The reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights cannot be of such disproportionate nature that they extinguish the right itself. The Indian government has failed to justify the nexus between potential terrorist threats and internet and media shut down for an unreasonably long period of time, as there is no indication of any kind of threat to public tranquility in the  present case.

Looking at the situation from the perspective of international humanitarian law, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ,which has been signed and ratified by India, requires that the government protect the right to freedom of expression and Information. According to a resolution passed in 2012, the UNHRC affirmed that right to information applied online as well. Article 19(2) of the ICCPR mandates that everyone “shall  have right to freedom of expression and this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print in the form of art or through any other media of his choice”. As per article 19(3) of ICCPR, the right to freedom of expression and information can only be restricted on the conditions that they are done so by law and are necessary for respecting the rights of others and to protect the national security or public order.

In the present case, the aspect of necessity has severely been overlooked. As discussed earlier, there was no substance to show that there was in fact a threat to national security and public order. The respect of modern communication channels–particularly the internet–is very important for a democratic country. As an interactive medium, the Internet opens up new possibilities for communication and is accordingly relevant for the theory of democracy. It ensures participation by forming audiences and opposing audiences and enhances the possibilities for political information, deliberation and participation. No other medium facilitates the communication between state and citizen to the extent that the internet does.  Research on the importance of the internet for civil society groups shows that net-based communication is  key for the organization of transnational protests and solidarity in particular. Even though some studies have pointed out that online content is relatively conventional and little use is being made of the interactive potential inherent to the technology, this form of communication remains. In Ahmed Yildirim v. Turkey the European Court of Human Rights held that the access to media platforms is an indispensable tool for exercising the right to freedom.

The recent steps taken by Indian government in Kashmir constitute serious violations of principles enshrined in the constitution of India and international covenants signed and ratified by India. However, the government has not responded to the questions raised by media and civil society in this regard. Last month a delegation from European Union visited Srinagar, (the capital of Jammu and Kashmir) to have a first-hand understanding of situation. The visit was diplomatically important as the government’s move was criticized internationally by lawmakers. However, the visit was unofficial and there was no intention on the part of delegates to submit the report to European Union.

The Indian government should not have unbridled power to curtail the fundamental rights of its citizens. Constraints imposed on media and the internet must therefore be removed as soon as possible and citizens should continue to enjoy their freedom of speech.