Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

The Hidden Cost of Shrimp: Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry

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A Thai fishing boat along Koh Samet, an island in the country’s eastern seaboard. Source: Mongabay, Lies, Deceit And Abduction Staff Thailand’s Fishing Industry. Photographer: Philippe Gabriel.

Imagine a pirate boat, surrounded by miles of unending water. Exhausted, scared people trapped aboard that floating prison, forced to work up to twenty-four hours nonstop for little or often no pay. They are living in inhumane conditions only on rice, parts of fish that no one else would touch, and unclean, unhealthy water. They are held in a cages, regularly beaten, forced to take methamphetamines to keep them working long hours, and sometimes killed for working not fast enough or for trying to escape. These execution-style killings are done in a variety of horrifying ways including electrocuting or tying the slave “by his limbs to the bows of four vessels, so that the ocean waves [will] tear the worker’s body apart.” Having no glimpse of hope to be ever free, they are desperate because even risky escapes are rarely successful: corrupt law enforcement officials often return fleeing slaves back to the ships for a fee. Imagine the dark and chilling refrigeration area on this pirate ship where caught fish are stored along with the corpses of killed slaves. Now imagine a shrimp farm in Thailand, where the farmers raise shrimp feeding them slave-caught fish that pirate ship supplied. Once the shrimp grow, they are exported to food manufacturers and retailers around the world, including the United States’ major food chain distributors such as Santa Monica Seafood, Stavis Seafoods, Thai Union and end up in supermarkets such as Costco, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, and Albertsons. Did you buy shrimp lately? The price for that “plate of seafood” on your table costs more than the dollar value you paid for it. The price is horror, the desperation of forced laborers, the tears of their mothers and children. As Hlaing Min, a runaway slave, one of a few who have successfully fled from a pirate boat, expressed: when Americans are eating seafood, “they should remember” the slaves, the slaves whose bones could easily form a mountain – “an island, it’s that many” – of bones of forced laborers that are under the sea.

It is not a fictional horror story. It is a reality, the reality of modern-form slavery in Thailand. Thailand, one of the world’s major seafood exporters and a key seafood supplier of United States, is remarkable in its forced labor practices. Human rights abuses in the Thai fishing sector are not a new phenomenon; deeply embedded in a commercial global supply chain, these abuses did not receive required attention up until recently. Unsurprisingly, Thailand is the only country in the world that voted against a U.N. international treaty intended to stop forced labor. Thailand’s current fishery laws, including the Fisheries Act, B.E. 2490 (1947); the Act Governing the Right to Fish in Thai Waters, B.E. 2482 (1939); and the Thai Vessel Act, B.E. 2481 (1938) are all woefully outdated.

Despite the Thai government’s numerous assurances to the international community to clean up its fishing industry from human rights abuses and its boosted legislative efforts in regards to protection of workers employed within the fishing industry (including Thai Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, B.E. 2551 (2008); Labor Protection Act, B.E. 2541 (1998); the Recruitment and Job-Seekers Protection Act, B.E. 2528 (1985); the establishment of more strict labor regulations on fishing vessels; the requirement of national registry for illegal migrant workers; and the establishment of shelter facilities for victims of human trafficking), uninterrupted exploitation of forced laborers is still present in the fishing sector. “The reality is [that] the Thai government’s high-sounding rhetoric to stop human trafficking and clean up the fishing fleets still largely stops at the water’s edge,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division explained.

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Former slaves on Thai-run ships wait processing after being rescued. Source: Mongabay. Photo courtesy of the Labour Rights Promotion Network.

Corruption that remains among government and law enforcement officials creates an environment of impunity, especially around human rights abuses of migrant laborers, discouraging the rare surviving victims from pursuing charges against their abusers. Due to virtually inexistent legal protection for undocumented workers and fear of arrest or deportation, most migrant fishers choose to be abused rather than seek out protection from the Thai authorities. Making human rights abuse even worse, there is a history of political and cultural conflict between Thailand and its neighboring countries and, as a result, people in Thailand have little or no concern for the lives of migrants; some of them even “see the abuse as justified.” The exploitation of laborers in the Thailand fishing industry already is “one of the worst examples of human rights abuse in the world today.” Yet the International Labor Organization stressed in its 2015 Report that countless cases of human trafficking and forced labor that were already uncovered are only “the tip of the iceberg in terms of the real prevalence of such abuses” in Thailand.

Abusive practices of overfishing have ravaged the marine ecosystems of Thailand, depleting fish stocks, and pushing fishing boats to move farther offshore, traveling as far as Eastern Indonesia and East Africa in search of a profitable fish catch. They often stay at sea for months or even years at a time. Not many Thai residents want to take these low-paid, dangerous jobs as fishermen; legal labor migration is limited through Thailand’s government policies, and it is not even economically viable for fishing companies to use a paid workforce. Yet Thailand seafood exports generate near $7 billion in annual earnings and to meet this demand a network of human traffickers and brokers has emerged. These brokers regularly recruit men and sometimes even children from poor neighboring countries, coercing, tricking and often drugging and kidnapping people to work in the fishing-related industry. When forced laborers become unable to work, die, or escape from sea slavery, the brokers can easily replace them with new recruits. Each slave, who is bought and sold like an animal, costs around $1,000, in some cases even less than $400 and is often subjected to forms of debt bondage, told to work off the “debt.”

As the U.S. State Department noted in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), there are approximately three to four million migrant laborers in Thailand, most of them from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, India, China, and Uzbekistan. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, more than ninety percent of people working in Thai fishing industry are migrant workers. Yet the total population of fishermen is unknown because most migrants do not go through a registration system. In its 2014 report, the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs has reported that shrimp in Thailand is produced by both child and forced labor. TIP puts Thailand at Tier 3, the lowest level of its report, meaning that Thailand does not comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and is not making substantial efforts to comply.

Even though U.S. companies have become increasingly aware of slavery and human trafficking in the Thailand supply chain, as of 2015, United States shrimp demand has increased its production in Thailand by twenty percent from the last year, expecting to import at least 250,000 metric tons of shrimp. Though the United States has a large domestic shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. shrimp are more expensive than the shrimp from Thailand. Thus, driven by the goal of keeping their prices for shrimp low and so to obtain more profits, U.S. retailers import shrimp. In fact, ninety four percent of the shrimp consumed in U.S. is imported farmed shrimp.

Some advocates of ending human rights abuses suggest that retailers should simply boycott suppliers who engage in slavery practices. Yet corporations have pointed out that this would not solve the problem because less-ethical buyers would line up to take their place or pointed to a lack of alternative sustainable seafood. Furthermore, because of the complicated nature of the global seafood chain, the use of trafficked labor is easily hidden in the process. As Huw Thomas, head of seafood procurement at Wm Morrison Supermarkets explains, tracking the source of seafood products is very difficult because the seafood industry is incredibly complicated and it may sometimes require tracing more than ten steps that separate the corporation, which bought the farmed seafood products, from the origins of fishmeal that go into the shrimp. Still some human rights organizations have already simplified that tracking for corporations: “[i]f you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour,” Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, explains.

Only a few resources and programs currently exist that help to identify links in the seafood supply chain where slavery occurs. Humanity United (HU), a San Francisco-based foundation, recently designed a campaign to combat slavery and human trafficking. The campaign includes four aspects: (1) focusing on targeting a single industry in a single country (HU chose Thailand fishing industry as a target); (2) chartering a coordinated strategy by cultivating a network of partners (HU encourages its partners to engage in work and not just simply sign checks to the organization); (3) interacting with the corporate business interests (HU confronts human rights abuses and helps companies to improve labor conditions of Thai workers); and (4) monitoring and confirming whether labor conditions in the seafood industry are actually improving (HU plans to pursue certification platforms and incorporate its assessments of work conditions into the certification process).

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On Costco shelves as of August 18, 2015. Source: Case3:15-cv-03783.

Everyone in Thailand and every corporation doing business with Thailand is keenly aware of slavery and human trafficking issues in the seafood industry supply chain. Indeed, all leading retailers “have factored these issues into their social responsibility approaches.” For example, in 2014, several corporations, including Costco and Tesco, announced publicly that they do not tolerate human trafficking and slavery and promised to scrutinize their supply chains, avoiding suppliers that engage in human rights abuses. Yet, violating its own public statements and its Supply Chain Disclosure, Costco continued to sell slavery-tainted shrimp to consumers until fall of 2015. Frozen shrimp and shrimp in wonton soup that Costco was selling were supplied to Costco by Thailand company Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company Limited (Charoen Pokphand Foods) or C.P. Food Products, Inc. (C.P. Foods). Those Thailand-based companies, as Guardian reported in June, 2014 after its six-month investigation, bought processed fish from suppliers that operated or, in turn, bought from pirate fishing vessels manned with slaves; C.P. Foods fed that processed fish to the shrimp it farmed prior to selling it to Costco. Furthermore, in 2014, Bob Miller, C.P. Foods’ UK managing director, already admitted that the company knew “there’s issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port].” However, Costco’s corporate practice of dealing with bad actors remained intact.

While activists alone cannot eradicate human rights abuses in the seafood industry, when the local Thai authorities fail to rein them in and U.S. corporations remain passive in cleaning up or monitoring their supply chains, U.S. consumers, who are unwilling to support slave labor practices, can help. On August 19, 2015, Monica Sud, one of Costco’s customers, commenced a California consumers’ class action against Costco and its Thai shrimp suppliers. Sud filed three claims for relief. The first claim is against Costco, Charoen Pokphand Foods, and C.P. Foods for unlawful business acts and practices. In regards to Costco, the lawsuit alleges that Costco for several years knowingly sold shrimp from Thai suppliers that farmed those shrimp on fish obtained from slave laborers and Costco was aware that the shrimp were directly derived from a supply chain that depended upon human trafficking and slavery. The second claim is against Costco for misleading and deceptive advertising practices, such as despite Costco’s knowledge of human rights abuses in its supply chain, Costco did not advise its customers that its farmed shrimp was tainted by the use of forced labor. The third claim is against Costco for violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, seeking an injunction to bar Costco from selling forced labor produced products, requiring Costco to disclose products in its supply chain that have been tainted by slave labor, and alleging that Costco’s use of forced labor is inconsistent with its California Transparency in Supply Chains Act disclosure. The lawsuit also seeks to compensate shrimp products’ purchasers. The complaint does not allege Costco’s corporate liability for complicity in human rights violations, yet it does so against C.P. Foods, stating that the corporation is directly complicit in the use of forced labor practices and has profited from those practices.

After the commencement of Sud lawsuit, Richard Galanti, a spokesman for Costco, responded that Costco is doing all it can “to address the issues that have surfaced,” working with the Thai retailers, the fishing industry, and the Thai government. Acknowledging the existence of slave labor in Thailand’s fishing industry, Galanti noted that unsatisfied customers “can return [Costco]’s item for a full refund.” As of November 15, 2015, Costco removed all seafood products made in Thailand from its Colorado stores and its website. Anne Marie Murphy of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, one of the attorneys representing Sud, stated that the lawsuit pursues goals of corporate reform and publicity; it is aimed to raise consumers’ awareness as to the issue of slavery; and hopefully will influence U.S. corporations’ practices, bringing long needed “change through the marketplace.”

Sud is the first consumer class action alleging inadequate disclosures and it set an example, started a new wave of class action litigation against other corporate defendants that have similar issues with forced labor produced products. Class actions already have been filed against Hershey, Iams, Mars, and Nestle. It is also expected that the attorney general, who has authority to enforce the California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, will begin filing civil suits against corporations, forcing them to fix their disclosures in compliance with the Act. Furthermore, keeping up with this movement, the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 was recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The new law will require large corporations nationwide to report any measures they have taken to identify and address human rights abuses within their supply chains.

While according to Satasap Viriyanantawani, general manager for the Thai business of Siam Canadian Foods, shrimp buyers in United States can even dictate the price they want to pay to suppliers, giant purchasers, such as Costco, can challenge the system of human rights abuses, forcing change by dictating terms to its suppliers and ensuring the products they buy are not derived from or otherwise created through the use of slavery or human trafficking. However, instead of using its market power to stop slavery in its supply chain, Costco had facilitated it, fueling the cycle of human trafficking and slavery through its purchases of tainted shrimp. If Costco, a corporation with total revenues of $116,199,000 for 2015, does not have the resources to monitor and control its suppliers, then who does?

Eliminating human trafficking and slavery from the global seafood supply chain is not an easy task. Yet it is well possible if everyone – including international and national communities, the private sector, and consumers – gets involved and presses for change. As a long-term solution for making a real impact, getting corporations to change their policies and combatting slavery in their supply chains, the international community should create an enforcement mechanism of one model standard to monitor, audit, and certify the integrity of global supply chains. All information regarding each individual country should be required to be shared with the international community. Given the fact that U.S. corporations have “dominant market share” in the world, the corporations should use their position to influence and pressure their suppliers to join an “accountability revolution,” meaning to uphold standards of the international community, enforcing norm-conforming conduct, performing audits of their supply chains, and preventing the cycle of human trafficking and forced labor. It is in the best interest of everyone in the international and national communities to ensure that the price for a “plate of seafood” is the monetary amount and not its current real cost of the desperation and horror of people who were lured into a life of slavery until they meet their watery grave.

Ilona Starchak is a 3L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy and the Denver Criminal Law Review.

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Legalization in Mexico: Ending pot prohibition on human rights grounds

“A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” – Abraham Lincoln

The concept of prohibition, while historically was associated with alcohol, is a main talking point in today’s culture when it comes to the topic of marijuana. In recent years, the global community has grabbled with prohibition of marijuana. While many countries have allowed for the legal use of medical marijuana and of possession of small quantities for personal use, and one country has gone so far to legalize the drug outright, no country has considered whether the use of marijuana is a human right; until now.qsfTEKW

On November 4, 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court made a historical ruling that personal use of marijuana is a “fundamental human right.” The eighty-eight-page opinion based its opinion on the concept that people have the right to engage in “recreation activities that do not harm others.” While Mexico’s ruling does not legalize the sale of the drug, the ruling has caused a ripple effect across Mexico as well as the global community. The global community now has to determine whether the drug treaties from the 1960s and 1970s hold weight in today’s changing view on marijuana. Specifically, the global community will need to address marijuana at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, as the current treaties call “for international co-operation” in the prohibiting and criminalizing the use, sale, distribution, and production of marijuana. With more countries leaning towards the legalization of marijuana, the treaties and their purposes may become obsolete.

Although Mexico’s ruling has a global impact on the debate prohibition of marijuana, Mexico’s ruling has two other global impacts. The first is how human rights are viewed. Mexico’s ruling was grounded in the “right to the free development of one’s personality.” The “right to the free development of one’s personality” arises from Article 22 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

Mexico’s interpretation of the right to development of one’s personality is the right to dignity, which should allow a person to make decisions about one’s life. Mexico equated the choice to consume marijuana to the choice of obtaining a divorce arguing that these choices are in the “sphere of personal autonomy” that should not be interfered with, especially by a government. Mexico went further and explained that “mental experiences” that one has while under the influence of marijuana is “among the most personal and intimate that anyone can experience,” which bolsters the argument using marijuana is within sphere of personal autonomy.

One could use Mexico’s interpretation of the right to development of one’s personality to look at the United States’ right to privacy, which is embedded through out the United States’ Constitution, to make the argument that United States’ federal government should not have the ability to prohibit the personal use of a substance. The United States at the moment does not control what a person chooses to ingest for meals, pain medicine, alcohol, etc. So why should the United States prohibit the personal ingestion of marijuana, which as Mexico points out causes a “personal and intimate” experience?

The counter-argument is that it is the right to development of one’s personality is too broad and includes “anything the individual might wish to do” that causes a “personal and intimate” experience. By allowing a person to do what they want to develop their personality the door to what people can do will open wide open. Granted this is a slippery slope argument, but the argument may find traction in governments that want to keep drugs and other questionable activities to a minimum.

The second impact is on how the global community views international treaties. By legalizing the personal use of marijuana, Mexico goes against United Nations treaties on drugs. While each country has the right to determine what happens within the country and the right to not have the international community interfere with internal policies, countries must adhere to treaties that the country signs. If a country does not adhere to the treaties it signs, why even have international treaties that cannot be enforced? Mexico’s ruling shows the weakness in international law because there is no real mechanism to enforce the drug treaties. Even if the International Court of Justice wanted to bring suit against Mexico or any other country currently violating the treaties on drugs, those countries would have to consent, which is very unlikely.

Regardless of how one feels about the effects of Mexico’s ruling and the ever changing debate on marijuana, the global community will soon have to determine whether or not to continue the prohibition of marijuana.

Teresa Milligan is a 3L law student at the University of Denver – Sturm College of Law and the Editor-in-Chief for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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No remedy for Nicaraguan victims of kidney disease

La Isla de Las Viudas (“the Island of the Widows”) surrounds Ingenio San Antonio (ISA), Nicaragua’s oldest and largest sugar mill. As the exclusive source of employment in town, the operation has employed nearly all of the local residents since its inception, and many say has been slowly and silently killing themImage_5_Sugar Cane_diego-rivera

Throughout the past two decades, over 20,000 sugarcane workers in El Salvador and Western Nicaragua have died prematurely after contracting Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). According to the World Health Organization, it’s difficult to determine which country has the highest rate worldwide because data on the disease is so limited. But the Pan American Health Organization claims that the Nicaraguan CKD death rate – 6 out of 10 sugarcane workers – is the highest in Latin America. Given the extreme poverty in Nicaragua, conventional remedies, like kidney transplants and dialysis, are not accessible to the victims. In Nicaragua, a CKD diagnosis is a death sentence. While the official cause of CKD is yet to be determined, the overwhelming evidence points to occupational and environmental hazards.

ASOCHIVIDA (The Association of Chichigalpinos for Life) is a local group comprised of 2,000 former sugarcane workers and family members affected by the disease. In 2008, ASOCHIVIDA filed a complaint with the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), the independent recourse mechanism of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank. The CAO handles complaints from project-affected communities with the goal of enhancing social and environmental outcomes on the ground.

The ASOCHIVIDA complaint alleged that the World Bank violated its lending standards by failing to acknowledge the prevalence of CKD in its appraisals of operations at ISA before approving a $55 million loan to ISA in October 2006.

While working for the Center for International Environmental Law, attorney Kristen Genovese (now with the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations) assisted ASOCHIVIDA with filing the CAO complaint. At the time, Genevose pointed out that the Nicaraguan government also failed to protect the sugarcane workers.

In the wake of the CAO complaint, ASCHOIVIDA and Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd. (NSEL) requested a formal public health investigation. (NSEL owns ISA, and Grupo Pellas has majority ownership in NSEL. U.K.-based, multinational, agribusiness, Tate & Lyle, is also a minority owner.) Although the IFC maintains that it complied with its strict social and environmental due diligence standards, the World Bank sponsored an ongoing CKD investigation. The investigation included three foundation studies, which were all led by Boston University in partnership with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to the World Bank’s massive sponsorship, other powerful, corporate interests also backed the investigation. The Sugar Producers of the Central American Isthmus contributed $1.05 million to the occupational part of the investigation, and the National Committee of Sugar Producers of Nicaragua contributed $675,000 to the adolescent component of the investigation. Although the CDC maintains that numerous measures were in place to protect the research from the undue influence of the sugarcane industry, many suspect the investigation may harbor an overwhelming bias in favor of the sugarcane industry.

Bias or not, the BU investigative team published a preliminary report in 2012 finding that the specific cause(s) remained unknown. The preliminary report provided no scientific link from industry to disease. However, in the most recent investigative report, the group concluded that a number of variables including a decline in kidney function during the harvest and variances in the severity of CKD trending with different job categories as well as duration of employment all provide evidence that one or more risk factors of CKD are occupational. Their current hypothesis is that the CKD epidemic is caused by a deadly cocktail of many variables including, but not limited occupational hazards, poor labor practices, chronic dehydration, slash-and-burn harvesting technique employed by sugarcane workers, and toxins found in pesticides and heavy metals.

In 2012, NSEL and ASOCHIVIDA reached a final agreement outlining provisions related to medical care, economic development and continued support for the ongoing research by Boston University. After this agreement was reached, the CAO continued to monitor its implementation. In 2015, the CAO issued a detailed Conclusion report, closed the case, and stepped down from its role as mediator.

The chichigalpinos, and the small, international community aware of the situation, can simply wait for the investigative teams to continue their long-term studies. As the dire situation has gained more international attention, other public health professionals have started their own independent studies. Catharina Wesseling, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm is currently studying the disease. According to Wesseling, “This epidemic is an occupational disease with possibly one or more yet unknown environmental components interacting with occupational dehydration. The unknown factor(s) may be a pesticide, arsenic, an infectious agent, use of nephrotoxic drugs, or other environmental pollutants. But there is no room for much doubt that chronic dehydration is one major factor.” La Isla Foundation (LIF), a León-based international research and policy NGO continues its CKD work at the intersection of public health and human rights.

The causality link between both labor practices and environmental conditions and CKD will be a crucial finding for everyone involved. Any future litigation will turn on the victims’ ability to provide this nexus.

In the meantime, victims and human rights advocates have a number of remedies they might explore.

In 2011, Dominican sugarcane workers lodged a complaint with the US Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) alleging that the Government of the Dominican Republic had failed to enforce labor laws as required by the U.S. Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). As a party to this multilateral agreement, Nicaraguan’s could, as the Dominican sugarcane workers have, request that OTLA launch an immediate investigation into the conditions in Chichigalpa.

Another possible avenue for legal remedy lies within another US agency, the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2008, the US funded conferences in both Nicaragua and El Salvador to promote sugarcane biofuel production. In embassy cables released by WikiLeaks, ambassadors lauded ISA’s embrace of bioethanol production after pressuring both countries to expand into biofuels. A subsequently, leaked cable revealed that the U.S. State Department had designated Nicaragua as a “high-priority” bioethanol producer. On February 3, 2015, the EPA designated sugarcane ethanol as an advanced renewable fuel as part of its Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) Program. Before participating in the RFS program, all companies are required to register with the EPA.  Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd. is listed on the EPA’s Fuel Programs Registered Company/Facility ID List with RIN: 5897. Assuming a bioethanol producer endorsed by the EPA must comply with certain labor and environmental standards, sugarcane workers may be able to seek a remedy through this branch of the US government.

Still another avenue might be for American sugar consumers to bring a consumer protection class action as Costco customers have in California who don’t want to serve “slave-shrimp” for dinner.

Proceeding upon the assumption that if and when a multinational corporation’s operations damage a local community that community ought to have recourse to justice somewhere, human rights attorneys will need to get creative in seeking legal remedies for the injured parties. For now, maybe a spoonful of sugar will help the human rights abuses go down.

Ty Nagamatsu is a 3L at the University of Denver – Sturm College of Law and Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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The Migrant Crisis: A Test of European Coherence?

By Alexandra Esmel

Europe is facing one of its largest refugee crisis since the end of the Second Word War. Violent conflicts in the Middle East (mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly from Eritrea, Somalia) have generated the flight of thousands of men, women and children from war zones, persecutions and/or extreme poverty. The impact of these conflicts is ever increasing on the civilian’s side hence, the large number of displaced (forced or voluntary) civilians into foreign countries. The wealth of Europe where most members have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention have made it an attractive choice for these persons looking for a safe place to stay. Whether legal or illegal, for economic or humanitarian reasons, migration towards the EU is nothing new, however the numbers of migrants reaching the EU or dying trying is now too high not to make the news.hhh

The right of free movement of the persons within the Schengen is a sacrosanct element of the European Union and raise the crisis to a supranational level. However, as the crisis escalated, the EU has lacked of steadfastness in comparison with its individual members which in turn led to important disparities in the way the crisis is handled.

Italy was the first member of the EU to respond to the humanitarian crisis of migrants with the Operation Mare Nostrum in 2013. Italy carried out its own rescue and search missions from its borders all the way to the coast of Libya.  The operation was unfortunately discontinued after the Italian request for additional funds to other EU Member States remained unsuccessful. Operation Mare Nostrum was then replaced by the EU Frontex mission which contrary to its predecessor only aims at securing the European borders. In 2015 alone, more than 300, 000 persons in distress illegally reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea in hope of safer and better lives.

Up north, the Western Balkans route (via Turkey; Greece then Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, etc…) is also one the busiest routes to the EU. More importantly, many refugees and economic migrants call upon the services of unscrupulous smugglers who charge them thousands of dollars for a life-threatening trip to their final destination by sea and/or land.

They embark on a very long and very dangerous journey to reach Europe by sea and land, risking everything they have: their lives and that of their families coming along. In August 2015, Austrian authorities made the macabre discovery on a highway of 71 dead corpses of migrants (assumed to be from sub-Saharan Africa) locked in an abandoned truck.  Before that, in 2013, a boat carrying more or less than 500 African migrants sank by the coast of Italy by Lampedusa. An outraging number of 360 persons died and 155 were rescued by the Italian navy. At the time of writing of this article, the humanitarian crisis is intensifying, the UNCHR has called on governments to strengthen rescue operations, provide swift access to asylum procedures for those in need of protection, and offer legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings. The UN Agency also estimated that 3,500 persons died in 2014 as a result of the crisis.

As it has been demonstrated with Operation Mare Nostrum, leaving one country to deal with the influx of migrants in the hope that it will fade away is a mistake (Italy and now Hungary). By law, every non-EU country person must register in the first European country they set foot in to initiate the appropriate immigration status procedure, may it be that of an asylum seeker or of an economic migrant. Hence, the clogging of small countries of entry to the EU such as Slovenia (2 million inhabitants) or Hungary (10 million inhabitants).

Hungary, the first state in the Schengen zone for migrants traveling via the Western Balkans route, just built a fence on its border with Serbia (not in the Schengen zone) to prevent the arrival of migrants into Hungary and thereby the Schengen zone.

Finally, the Hungarian government unilaterally decided in October 2015 to close its border with Croatia (a candidate to the Schengen area) to migrants albeit “just” being countries of transit for migrants who generally wish to settle further west in Germany or France. On the measure, the Hungarian government’s spokesman stated that “The Hungarian government has taken the steps […] to protect the internal European freedoms and the security of the citizens of Hungary and Europe”.

More alarming, Austria which is a member of the Schengen has now moved to erect a physical border with another member of the Schengen zone: Slovenia. Certainly, it is for the purpose of deterring illegal entry into its territory but inherently it interferes with the EU principle of free movement in the Schengen area. The impossibility to reach Hungary will deviate migrants from Hungary to Slovenia and other neighboring states, the same goes with Austria and Slovenia. Changing the route will not solve the challenge that Europe is facing as a political and economic union. 

In April 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to impose mandatory migrants’ quotas on its Members in order to distribute equally the responsibility inherent with the arrival of migrants. The European Commission stated itself that the migration crisis is not an Austrian crisis. This is not an Italian, French, German or a Greek or a Hungarian crisis. This is a European crisis and it requires a collective European response. France and Germany are in favor of the scheme while others oppose it vigorously. Several Balkans states have denoted their opposition to binding quotas, Slovakia is even considering challenging the decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In May 2015, the European Parliament announced the establishment of an emergency mechanism for relocating migrants, a resettlement scheme to take in migrants from countries outside the EU and more funds for securing borders.  Finally, the Balkan summit of 25th October 2015 resulted in a 17-point plan agreement between Europe and the Balkans states. The plan includes a “deal” still under negotiation with Turkey to help with the flux of migrants in exchange of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and financial support. The implementation of the plan will be monitored by the European Commission on a weekly basis notably regarding the management of borders and of the flow of migrant (exchange of information; coordination with Frontex etc…).

Looking at the future, it is important to realize that this debate should also focus on “immigrants-to-be”: persons wishing to establish their residence in the EU for at least 12 months. The bottom line is that many economic migrants and asylum seekers, legal or illegal, are not simply in transit and actually intend to work, put their children to school and/or to stay in the host country for some time. Once they have reached Europe, they still have to fulfill the conditions for residence or work in the host country.

The arrival of migrants coincides not only with important economic difficulties in the EU but also with the recent rise of far-right parties across the continent. As much as the Grexit drama was an important test for Europe as a financial union, the migrants’ crisis might as well be the test for the defined idea of a European solidarity, identity and union.


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Migrants seen as Economic Detriment to Greece and Benefit to Germany

By the end of July 2015, more than 124,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Greece; an astonishing 750% increase in the amount of refugees and migrants from the same time the previous year. The vast majority of these refugees are those feeing conflict and human rights violations in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq in wake of the humanitarian crisis.

Refugees arriving in Lesbos, Greece. Photo credit: Laxar Simeonov (click for source)

For these refugees, the Greek financial crisis has been both a blessing and a curse. For many, travel into the Greek islands is attractive because of the country’s reputation for leniency in immigration laws and lack of resources to adequately control its borders and the flow of immigrants. However, once they’re in, many face the bleak reality of the struggling Greek economy. Though some view Greece as simply the entry point into Western Europe with plans to move north to more prosperous countries such as Germany, many flee to Greece with very little possessions and money and can’t afford to travel any further. It’s at this point that the realities of the Greek economy and the scope of the refugee crisis come into view: Greece simply cannot support and process the major influx of refugees while at the same time trying to recover its dismal economic state. Frustrations in the wake of such considerations have reached a tipping point recently culminating in riots on the island of Lesbos over seemingly inefficient process for intake of refugees and inability of the government to provide basic necessities to those arriving on the islands.

Although Greece is struggling to assist refugees, the generous response from the Greek society, in a very difficult time, should be and appears to be acknowledged with action and support from the European Union. On September 22, the EU Interior Ministers voted in favor of a quota system to address the crisis and help to relocate asylum-seeks throughout Europe. Though the plan has been approved by the EU Interior Ministers, it still must be considered by the EU Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the EU remains divided on how best to address the refugee crisis, with some member states calling the quota system “unreasonable” and a “waste of time.” However, scholars on the other side have taken the position that the massive influx of refugees seeking employment and ready to build a new life presents a valuable opportunity for countries like Germany, with an aging workforce and declining population, and have gone as far as to forecast that a sharp increase in growth will result for those willing to accept new migrants and asylum-seekers stating, “an influx of 1 million people over the next three years would raise the country’s GDP by 0.6% by 2020.” Germany’s ability to integrate a substantial number of asylum-seeks seems to have been taken into consideration, with Germany being asked to take by far the highest number of immigrants under the proposed plan.

Demi Arenas is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal or International Law and Policy.

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Grading the United Nations at 70 years old

(Denver Post) By Ved Nanda

The euphoria that accompanied the creation of the United Nations in 1945 has long since



given way to frustration and disappointment. Established in the aftermath of the death and destruction of World War II to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” it has succeeded in preventing another global war, but peace still remains illusory.

Armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the Congo, Yemen, and other places attest to this grim reality. And the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the tragedy of Srebrenica show the international community’s failure to make good on its promise.

Benefiting from the experience of the failed League of Nations, the U.N. founders proclaimed in its charter the main purposes: to maintain international peace and security, to promote and protect human rights, and to effectively address pressing international economic and social issues such as development through international cooperation.

For a fair assessment of the U.N. on its 70th anniversary this fall, we need to look at its record in achieving these goals.

Under the U.N. framework, the Security Council, in which the veto power is wielded by five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — is primarily responsible for peace and security. The founders envisioned that these five members would provide an umbrella of collective security for the world. That is why these became the only countries exclusively authorized to possess nuclear weapons.

But the Cold War quickly intervened. The U.S. and the Soviet Union — then the two superpowers — were embroiled in a prolonged ideological struggle, which led to an era of client states and proxy wars. The outcome was a paralyzed Security Council and stillbirth of the collective security system. This period lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At that time, there was renewed promise that the five permanent members (P-5) would work together to fulfill the expectations of the Security Council’s role on peace and security, and the first Gulf War showed a glimpse of that possibility. But the window again closed with Russia and the West at loggerheads on several geopolitical issues.

This tussle notwithstanding, the P-5 have found their interests aligned on countering terrorism, piracy, nuclear nonproliferation, on imposing collective sanctions on Iran, and now the Iran nuclear deal. They have also given their blessings to peacekeeping operations, and President Obama is to host a peacekeeping summit in New York in September. But more often, they disagree, such as on Syria.

Because the collective security apparatus did not work, the U.N. instituted peacekeeping as a band-age for trouble spots. From the early days of U.N. peacekeeping between India and Pakistan, these operations have expanded considerably, now in 16 countries with an enhanced mandate to protect civilians.

More than 100,000 personnel from more than 100 countries are engaged. The operation is costly — $8 billion-plus — and there are tremendous challenges. Critics often point to inefficiencies and abuses in the system, which badly needs clearly defined mandates, selection of peacekeepers based on experience and training, an effective oversight process, and well-defined exit strategies. The value of these operations, however, cannot be overstated.

The geopolitical circumstances have shifted the landscape. The 50 original charter signatories have grown to 193. No longer are peace and security issues confined to conflicts between and among states, as non-state actors such as the Islamic State, terrorists, and criminal elements challenge the traditional structure. And mass migration, climate change, environmental degradation, food insecurity, and violent extremism, among other forces, are major global security problems.

More than 50 million people are forcibly displaced today, and given the tragic incidents of hundreds of asylum-seekers drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and thousands on the move in Europe, the international community is undoubtedly failing them. Will the U.N. system, which is already showing its age, be able to deliver on these challenges?

On human rights, the U.N. indeed has undertaken impressive initiatives. Given the vivid demonstration of the Nazi Germany’s atrocities at home and aggression abroad, the founders realized that peace and security and human rights are inextricably intertwined. Accordingly, human rights found a place of honor on the U.N. agenda. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, followed by binding international treaties on civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, culminated in an “international bill of rights.”

Since then, a number of international agreements have set universal standards for the promotion and protection of the rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, and disabled persons, for example. International agreements on the prohibition of atrocity crimes — genocide and torture, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes — and the creation of an International Criminal Court to hold egregious violators accountable are attempts to end all impunity. And credit for the independence of dozens of former colonial states goes to the U.N.’s decolonization process.

The U.N. World Conferences on Women — especially the 1995 Beijing Conference — set the goals of gender equality, active participation of women in decision-making, reproductive rights, and voluntary family planning. U.N. Women, a U.N. entity, now has a universal mandate to promote the women’s rights agenda.

Impressive international agreements are now in place on a wide range of other issues of human interaction, including the environment, the Earth’s ozone layer, the oceans, trade, outer space, terrorism, disarmament, aviation and shipping. The U.N. specialized agencies are addressing these issues. For example, the World Health Organization leads the global response to pandemics by creating awareness and mobilizing member states’ quick action on these threats.

The U.N. is attempting to shape a livable future on earth through a “sustainable development agenda,” which envisions linkage between economic viability, social development, and environmental aspects. It is an effort to bridge the initial North-South divide under which the developed states focused primarily on environmental protection, and developing countries on development needs. In 2005, the U.N. adopted the Millennium Development Goals, which focused on reducing poverty, hunger and child mortality, ensuring women’s empowerment, and providing clean water. Many of these goals, set to expire at the end of this year, have been largely met, and in September the U.N. will launch the Sustainable Development Goals, to last until 2030. These goals aim at ending poverty and hunger in all their forms everywhere, achieving gender equality, and ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, and affordable, reliable, and modern energy for all.

Indeed, the U.N. has had spectacular successes and monumental failures. It provides this interdependent world a platform where nations can enter into dialogue and negotiate to resolve their conflicts and address pressing challenges. Undoubtedly the organization suffers from a large bureaucracy, mismanagement, and inefficiency. Its governance structure has pointedly come under harsh criticism, a valid concern, indeed.

Currently the expansion of the Security Council is a contentious issue. Among the P-5 there is no representation from Africa or Latin America. The Asia-Pacific region, which comprises 55 percent of the world’s population and 44 percent of its annual income, has just one representative: China. This calls the Security Council’s legitimacy into question, and on Sept. 14 the General Assembly renewed the efforts for reform.

The veto power, which is responsible for the impasse and hence inaction at the Security Council to solve crises such as Syria, should be altered. But the P-5 defend it, and none would be willing to relinquish it. To illustrate, the Russian ambassador to the UK recently called the permanent members’ right to veto, a guarantee of checks and balances. And any alteration of the U.N. governance structure would require two-thirds of the membership of the General Assembly, 129 votes, not an easy task.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term expires at the end of 2016. Jockeying for the job is in full swing. While East Europeans feel that it is their turn and the former president of Slovenia is a strong contender, there is powerful sentiment that the time is ripe for the first woman to take the helm.

There is truth in the cliché that if we did not have a United Nations we would have to invent one. However, while it is accurate that the U.N. can do only what its members will let it do, it must have the capacity to adapt to the changed geopolitical setting and a new economic and social landscape. Crucial questions are how to end red tape and bureaucracy; how to ensure effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms; and how to bring the governance structure in tune with modern-day realities.

Unless they are answered, the U.N.’s capability to effectively address the challenges and crises of the present and future is in question. The United States, which acknowledges the benefits of U.N. membership, must give its full support.

Ved Nanda (vnanda@law.du.edu) is Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law and director of the Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.


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Schengen Fails Under Weight of Migrant Influx as Sovereignty Trumps


The migrant crisis is forcing tensions between the free-movement created by the Schengen Agreement and notions of state sovereignty.  The crisis has brought into questions of European solidarity as countries force migrants from one country to the next.  In practice the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which requires that a migrant’s asylum claim be processed in the European country where he/she first arrives, has been de facto suspended.  Some have suggested, which this author agrees with, that the Dublin Regulation needs to be completely revamped to respond to the current crisis.

Just this weekend, the Hungarian government has accused Croatia of breaching international law by failing to register migrants.  At the same time, Hungary is currently building a razor wire fence in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants into the country.  Additionally, a number of migrants who reached Austria via Hungary have told the BBC they had not been registered in Hungary either, simply driven in buses across the country and told to walk over a railway line into Austria.

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours, Austria has seen the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants.  Migrants were sent first to Hungary by Croatia, who stated it was unable to accommodate the 20,000 plus migrants who had arrived since Wednesday. While initially welcoming them, Croatia later state said it was unable to cope, sending them to Hungary.  Hungary then turned to Austria, while accusing Croatia of breaking rules by failing to register migrants.

EU Crisis - Boheme
Migrants queue as they wait to board a regional train at the main railway station in Munich, Germany. (Reuters)

Countries like Germany, which have welcomed refugees and have offered to take in records numbers of migrants are now finding that such offerings are untenable.  In his State of the Union speech on 9 September the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, called free movement under Schengen “a unique symbol of European integration”.  However, such integration is now being tested.  While Mr. Juncker called for “better joint management of our external borders and more solidarity in coping” with the influx, the reality is that few countries have demonstrated solidarity in order to find a durable solution to the crisis.

While EU nations desperately guard their sovereignty and shift the burden from one country to the next, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Eritrea continue raging, forcing migrants to choose between enduring extremely dangerous and dire situations at home, or leaving their homes and embarking on perilous journeys towards what they hope will be safety. Illustrating the dangers many migrants face in their flee towards safety is a recent warning from Croatia of the risk of landmines if migrants venture off the main roads in border areas, where Croat and Serb forces clashed in the early 1990s. Yet many migrants are still reported to be entering Croatia across those dangerous fields in an attempt to bypass border controls.

One migrant who made it safely to Austria told the Associated Press, “I feel like I’ve been born anew. It makes no difference whether I am delayed, whether I stay here two days. The important thing is that I’ve finally arrived and that I am now finally safe.”  However, the travel options for migrants remain dangerous, with the Greek coastguard reported that a five-year-old girl died when the boat taking her from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos sank, and at least 13 other migrants on board are missing.

What is clear is that the conflicts in countries such Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan shows no signs of stopping, and as a result, migrants will continue to seek safe haven in Europe.  With attempts such as the EC’s recent proposal for mandatory quotas to distribute 160,000 migrants EU-wide being rejected, countries need to do much more to address this issue which will not disappear any time soon.  However, the problem is incredibly complex, as migration expert Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute Europe has suggested.

Papdemtriou stated recently that to address the migrant crisis, Europe will have to invest in creating real opportunities for refugees so that they can stay in neighboring countries, make a livelihood, get an education, and access health services. He suggests further that Europe should work with countries that are a launching pad, by targeting three or four key countries on the pathway from countries experiencing large patterns of migrations, and do as much as it takes to get their cooperation — to stop traffickers, to create opportunities for people to stay, and create a safe pathway.  This of course requires the cooperation of European countries and governments, something that has been in short supply during the crisis.  This is not to oversimplify the fact that governments have genuine security concerns, and real concerns regarding resources both economic and otherwise, and this crisis is incredibly complicated.  There is no “easy” solution.  However, what this situation requires is a strategic response, which cannot be achieved without the cooperation of affected countries, including a possible revamp of the Dublin Regulation and an open dialogue on the functioning of the Schengen Agreement within the framework of the current crisis.

Emily Boehme is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Senior Managing Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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When Law is not Enough: How to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation


Girls in Egypt 2015 (photo by Christina Mourad – UNFPA)

The practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) has many psychological, emotional, and physical effects.  The international community recognizes the practice FGM as a human rights violation.  There has been a global effort to eradicate the practice by both firmly categorizing FGM as a human rights violation and by making the practice illegal in countries where it is practiced.  Despite these efforts, and despite the increasing awareness of the risks linked to FGM, millions of young girls are still affected today.  This is because condemnation by the international community and even successful efforts within countries to make FGM illegal have done very little to change the social and cultural realities surrounding the practice.  Until that happens, FGM will continue to effect women across the globe.

Currently, countries such as Somalia, where the rate of FGM is 98 percent, are considering passing legislation that will make FGM illegal.  Making the practice illegal is an important step, however, simply changing the law will not, on its own, eradicate FGM.  In Egypt, for example, although the practice has been illegal since 2008, the rate of FGM for married women is still at 92 percent.  Furthermore, despite the fact that a doctor was recently convicted of manslaughter for performing FGM (his patient died), many doctors are still willing to perform the procedure.  Even countries where FGM has not historically been woven into the fabric of society are struggling with eliminating the practice.  For instance, in the United States, where FGM has been illegal since 1996, “the number of women at risk for female genital mutilation has practically doubled in the last decade.”

The continued pervasiveness of FGM, even in countries where it is explicitly illegal, is due to the fact that it is deeply woven into the fabric of society in many cultures around the world.  Whether or not a girl goes through FGM is directly linked to her marriage prospects and to her acceptance into society.  So for a family to forge the procedure or for a girl to refuse the procedure can have lasting and devastating effects. One girl in Sierra Leone was pulled out of school for two years for bringing shame on her family for refusing.

Legal action and international condemnation usually ignore these important cultural issues.  The “knee-jerk” reaction in Western cultures is to completely demonize FGM and ignore sincerely held cultural beliefs.  However, it turns out that one culture judging and attacking another does absolutely nothing to change the minds and practices of the judged culture.  FGM is no exception.

The reality of the situation is that education and uniting the community are the keys to eradicating FGM.  This approach must take into account the traditions and ancient cultural roots of FGM so as to not alienate communities.  This is because the entire community needs to come together for this goal to be achieved.  Especially since it is the adults who are ensuring and, in some cases, forcing children to go through the process.  Without collective and coordinated action in the community, social pressures will continue to allow FGM to flourish.

Simply making something illegal without also changing cultural attitudes underling a practice will do little to eradicate the practice.  Neither will condemning the practice outright and without any attempt to understand the underlying reasoning for the practice to continue.  The increased international attention to the harms caused by FGM, and the attempts by some countries to eradicate the practice through passing legislation, are important.  However, for the sake of the millions of girls still at risk of the procedure, more needs to be done.  It is only by addressing the cultural issues realistically and sensitively that FGM can be reduced and hopefully eradicated globally.

Allison Derschang is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Intervention: Altruistic Benevolence or International Tyranny?

John Donne famously declared, “[n]o man is an island.” Similarly, “no state is an island,” as states are inevitably impacted by the actions of others. But does this mean that any connection, however attenuated, justifies one state’s interference with another? Is this kind of interference ever justified? Is there ever an obligation on states to commit just this sort of interference?

(courtesy of K-State IMI data)

Historically, the line that divided benevolent intervention from tyrannous interference was the consideration of whether such interference was necessary to protect a state’s “vital interests.” While the standard of “vital interests” is itself an amorphous concept, the greater concern is whether it is an appropriate standard in the first place. Might not atrocity permit, and perhaps even require, those states with the ability to interfere to do so?

As early as 1933, the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States illustrated the efforts of the international community to establish limits on the extent to which countries could interfere with one another. Article XI explicitly provides that “[t]he territory of a state is inviolable and may not be the object of military occupation nor of other measures of force imposed by another state directly or indirectly or for any motive whatever even temporarily.” Similarly, Article II of the United Nations Charter, passed in 1945, states that “[n]othing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of [a] state.” The general trend at this time appeared to favor non-interference, considering the sovereignty of a state to be absolute.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948, suggests a divergence from this mode of thinking. In its prohibition of genocide and war crimes, the UDHR proclaims that it is the responsibility of nations to ensure the “universal and effective recognition and observance” of human rights. However, the implications of this agreement remain abstruse. Is it the responsibility of each state to guarantee these rights only within their own borders, or is it incumbent upon each state to ensure that all other states also adhere to the UDHR? By what guiding principle is a state to adjudicate this dilemma born out of ambiguity and vacillating standards?

The difficulty lies in the collision of sovereignty with the prevention of atrocity. Interference constitutes a breach of sovereignty and it seems that any subsequent agreement made due to such interference would fail to be legitimate. An additional concern therefore is that it would be no mark against the state which violates an agreement made under such duress. But perhaps such a violation of sovereignty is required in the face of large-scale violence. In this context, the question of how many lives a state’s sovereignty is worth remains a haunting question.

While the United States has established that amongst their citizens there is no legal duty to rescue, perhaps a different standard is called for in the international arena. Current international law appears to leave both options open: vigorously protect human rights within one’s own borders only, or unequivocally engage atrocities both foreign and domestic. The burden of this decision rests with the various states as they determine their own statuses in a multifarious world, as there does not appear to be a clear legal answer.

As states struggle to determine precisely what influence they wish to exert, perhaps a guiding principle can be discerned from the Declaration of Independence signed at the birth of the United States: “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government.” If the United States, or any other state, truly believes all people possess a duty to oppose a certain kind of cruelty, it would seem that the answer is clear: violations of human rights are intolerable. Yet the burden remains with each state individually to determine when and how to intervene, as the legal question of whether interference constitutes benevolence or tyranny remains an open one.

Cameron Hunter is a 3L law student and second year master’s student at the University of Denver and is the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Who is to Blame for the Venezuela – Colombia Border Crisis?

Columbian Crossing River
Many Colombians are leaving Venezuela by crossing the Tachira river. (courtesy of BBC)

In an effort to restore peace and order along the Colombian border, the President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, has declared a state of emergency. Border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia have closed, martial law has been enacted in border regions, and Colombians living in border towns in Venezuela illegally were given 72-hours to pack up and leave their homes, many fleeing back across the river to Colombia. This decision comes after smugglers and border police engaged in gunfire last week, leaving three soldiers wounded.

The identity and nationality of these smugglers is still yet unknown, an investigation is underway. One other individual involved in the attack was arrested, he is a Venezuelan citizen. President Maduro has accused Colombian paramilitary individuals of having a link to Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe.  However, Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos has suggested that the smuggling problem is rooted in Venezuela, not Colombia. For many years, Venezuelan citizens have used the border to smuggle gasoline and other Venezuelan goods into Colombia in order to sell them at higher prices to Colombian citizens. This smuggling practice is facilitated by Venezuela’s government subsidies which allow Venezuelan citizens to use these subsidies to purchase food, cosmetics, and gasoline that they later re-sell in Colombia, which has resulted in these items becoming scarce inside Venezuela. However, President Maduro attributes the scarcity of these items to mismanagement and not to smuggling. The black market economy originating in Venezuela has been the source of income for Venezuelan families living along the border of these two countries for some time.

Marked "D"
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the marking of houses reminded him of “bitter episodes” in history. (courtesy of BBC)

The state of exception instituted by President Maduro has been the subject of international criticism. Venezuelan army soldiers have marked the cinder block homes of these evicted families with a red letter “D” indicating demolition.  The declaration of a state of emergency allows Venezuelan soldiers to search businesses without a warrant. News outlets around the world have condemned these actions. The families with only a 72-hour eviction notice, have been forced to walk across knee-high river waters with their belongings, leaving the oil-rich country where they established a life behind. There have been more than 1000 Colombian citizens that have been deported since the law was implemented. Although President Maduro blames these citizens for Venezuela’s smuggling and violence problems, these families have fled poverty, famine, and violence and moved to Venezuela hoping to benefit from the country’s natural resources labor. More than 800 Colombians live in this border region. President Santos has already pledged to providing government subsidies for these families and helping these them find a home in Colombia.

The effects of this border closing have already been seen in both countries. In Colombia there is a scarce supply of gasoline, leaving many motorists competing for fuel to power their engines. In Venezuela, the trade halt has left many poor families that relied on this trade without means to support their families. Although President Maduro is satisfied with the halting of the smuggling practice, this border closing has done anything but address the root of the smuggling problem, which originates in Venezuela.

Sandra M. Ortega is a 2L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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