STRENGTHEN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS
Article Published in New Indian Express
Feb 15 2014
Kings and emperors from ancient times have sealed agreements at the end of wars and concluded treaties for restoring peace, for acceding and annexing territories and for trade with each other. Customs have also dictated how emissaries have to be treated, wars fought and peace negotiated at the end of wars. Earliest record is of a treaty drawn up and sealed in 1283 B.C between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite King after a bitter battle. Romans and Greek kingdoms also signed numerous treaties, most of them at the end of battles, as did the European monarchs in later times. The progression of international treaties in modern times has its beginnings in the 1864 Geneva Convention which dealt with the treatment of wounded soldiers during war, and this was signed by major kingdoms in Europe in the background of extensive political and military upheavals. Placing checks on the brutality of war, the four Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols thereof, sought to regulate armed conflict and limit its excesses as well as protect innocent persons not fighting or caught in the aftermath.
Today all major concerns that impact every aspect of human life as well as those that govern State practice are the subject of international conventions. International conventions have also been initiated by countries when specific needs have risen to regulate State behaviour in matters of global concerns. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which deals with all aspects of the use of the sea, the oceans and the deep seabed is one such international treaty. It divides the waters of the world into specific zones and delineates and limits the use in a manner which will benefit all mankind. Similarly, the ten core international conventions and protocols dealing with human rights which were signed and ratified by countries between the periods 1965-2006 addressed specific concerns ranging from torture and forms of discriminations to civil and political rights, rights of women and children , rights of migrant workers and rights of persons with disabilities. Conventions therefore govern and protect national and international interests over land, sea, high seas, air and outer space. There are several international treaties that have been concluded that deal with criminal acts by both states and non state actors like the unlawful seizure of protected persons, or of aircraft and ships. There are also several international instruments that deal with nuclear safety and nuclear liability, with proper and sustainable use of resources and protection of the environment. It is apparent that the purpose of most of the Conventions is to secure the kind of world envisaged in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter i.e. to ensure the dignity of the individual and international peace and security. However, sixty eight years thence, various forms of discriminations against people for diverse reasons and behaviour contrary to these principles continue by many nations. Nations justify their reluctance to be parties to an international treaties on several grounds most of which arise from the notion of sovereignty and their unwillingness to limit their authority to global consensus by enacting national laws in accordance with obligations created by international instruments i.e. global control over domestic policy.
The United States, despite its well-articulated stance of honouring global commitments has proved to be the foremost defaulter in ratifying international treaties. Although it has initiated several conventions and signed some of them, it has failed to ratify several important and significant conventions. For example, the most compelling and speedily ratified treaty in human history is the Convention on the Rights of the Child which secures to all children civil, social, political, economic, health and cultural right. Although signed by the US in 1995 it has not yet been ratified by it. The only other country not to do so is Somalia; an associate in action that the United States would not be proud of. The argument placed by the US for non-ratification is that it would undermine the rights of the parents. It also views it as UN interference in the raising of children. This is significant because a number of states in the US still permit corporal punishment in schools and homes. Furthermore, the resistance to ratification also stems from the fact that ratification of the treaty would interfere with the parent’s choices in religious and sex education. Similarly, the United States signed the CEDAW (Convention Against Discrimination Against Women) in 1980; it has not ratified it along with countries like Iran and Somalia. Similarly other nations that wield great influence in geo politics have often chosen not to become parties to several important conventions. China has not signed or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other instruments relating to human rights. While the US has been vociferous in backing a Resolution in the UN Human Rights Council on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, it holds a dismal record of human rights violations in the actions taken by it in its war against terror.
India has been a major adherent of innumerable international instruments, signing and ratifying almost all the major international treaties. Several Indian laws have been enacted in accordance with the international obligations. However, India has strongly opposed the setting up of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It abstained in the vote for the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 and under which the ICC is set up on several grounds. The arguments for refusal to sign and ratify include the definition of crimes against humanity in the Statute and the inclusion of non-international conflicts in the category of war crimes. These inclusions would lead to all internal disputes in India becoming subject to the ICC and would be a flagrant interference in the domestic policy of the country. Besides the well-structured and robust judiciary under the democratic system in India, it is argued, is well equipped to deal with violations of rights of the individual.
International conventions are based on customary practices followed by nations since the formation of nation states. They are the reflections of the aspirations of the world community to create global consensus about matters that affect all. It is rather disquieting to observe that many of the global disputes and confrontations are the result of nations not accepting the norms of international law With influential global powers shirking the responsibility of strengthening international conventions, issues and disputes are left to unilateral interpretation impelling further conflicts. Without the template of an instrument to guide the interpretation, the stronger nation will enforce its will on other weaker nations. Far more worrisome is the fact that nations that wield great influence in geo politics often choose not become parties to important conventions and operate outside global indicators. The recent trend of the US to create a series of multi-lateral treaties called “initiatives” is a bad precedent .These initiatives allow the US not only to draw benefits from existing international norms but also absolve it of both responsibilities and obligations under specific international conventions. If other nations adopt similar “initiatives” to serve personal objectives, it will lead to the displacement of the norms of international law. Instead, all major powers should reinforce their commitment to global peace and security by supporting international conventions through the process of ratification.