Asia and International Law

Environmental Law – UN Environment Assembly opens in Nairobi aiming to ensure ‘healthy planet, with healthy people’ (UN News 23 May 2016)

Hundreds of key global decision-makers are gathering in Kenya for the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), aiming to tackle some of the most critical issues facing our planet, from the air pollution that kills millions of people every year to an illegal trade in wildlife that is pushing species to the brink of extinction. Held at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, UNEA is the world’s most powerful decision-making body on the environment. This year, leaders will seek to pass a raft of resolutions, including those on food waste, the fading health of oceans, the world’s natural capital, and sustainable consumption and production. Addressing the opening session, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that since the first UNEA held in 2014, “the environment has shifted from the margins of attention to the centre of global decision making.” “It now runs through the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreementon climate change, establishing UNEA as the ‘World Parliament for the Environment,’ he said, stressing that UNEA is the only platform outside of the UN General Assembly to have universal representation.

International Economic Law – India, Afghanistan and Iran Sign Deal for Transport Corridor (WSJ, 23 May 2016)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed an agreement with Tehran on 23 May for a transport corridor designed to open up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar, circumventing Pakistan. Chabahar port, which India will partially develop just across the border from Pakistan’s, is the centerpiece of the corridor. India and Iran also signed an agreement in Tehran that allows New Delhi to begin work on Chabahar after a delay of more than a decade. Mr. Modi said the deal could “alter the course of history of this region” and help India, Afghanistan and Iran “to eventually build what we all desire and deserve—a friendly and healthy neighbourhood.”

International Economic Law – ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit: Russia eyes economic expansion in SE Asia (Asia Times, 23 May 2016)

Russia moved to forge stronger ties with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) mid-May, pledging to focus on economy rather than geopolitical alliances. Local observers preferred to highlight geopolitical aspects of the rapprochement between Russia and Southeast Asia. Russian media outlets, including Sputnik International, noted that Russia looked to the East, seeking new allies among US partners in Asia. However, ASEAN top officials remained reluctant to concede that the Sochi summit had a geopolitical dimension. Lao leader Thongloun Sisoulith told a press briefing after the meeting that no western pressure was applied to discourage ASEAN leaders from attending the meeting.

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Law of Development – Partnerships, fresh policy ideas needed to ensure ‘no one is left behind,’ UN Asia-Pacific forum told (UN News, 17 May 2016)

Strong political commitment, action and well-functioning coordination mechanisms, fully supported by the countries of Asia and the Pacific, will be critical to ensure that “no one is left behind,” were spotlighted at the opening of the2016 session of the main United Nations policy forum in the region. The 72nd session is being held under the theme ‘Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for Sustainable Development,’ and places particular emphasis on harnessing STI towards achieving the 2030 Agenda in Asia-Pacific.

Law of the Sea – G-7 to express ‘strong opposition’ to militarization of South China Sea (Japan Times, 24 May 2016)

The Group of Seven leaders meeting in Japan this week will express “strong opposition” to island construction and militarization of outposts in the South China Sea in a veiled criticism of Beijing’s actions to assert its claims to disputed islands and atolls, G-7 sources said. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to show a unified response with his G-7 peers to China’s attempts to force a shift in the status quo in the South China Sea, where Beijing is engaged in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Law of the Sea – South China Sea dispute: China claims support of 40 countries (Economic Times, 20 May 2016)

China today claimed it had the backing of over 40 countries in its campaign to shore up support for its stand opposing arbitration by a UN tribunal to end the dispute with its neighbours over the strategic South China Sea. China, which has opposed the tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS), has stepped up its campaign against the arbitration process. The tribunal is set to deliver its judgement on a petition by the Philippines against China over rival claims to the strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Ahead of the tribunal's judgement, China has mobilised backing from Russia, besides several countries in Asia and Africa.

Human Rights – UN experts urge Sri Lanka to adopt measures to fight torture and strengthen justice system (UN News, 10 May 2016)

Two United Nations experts have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to replace the legal framework that allowed human rights violations to occur and to establish democratic institutions in line with international human rights standards. “Sri Lanka is taking steps to draft a new constitution, an undertaking that presents an opportunity to reinforce the independence and impartiality of the justice sector and provide more safeguards against torture and other serious human rights violations,” said Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in a press release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The experts, speaking at the end of their official visit to Sri Lanka on 7 May, welcomed the fact that the elections in 2015 had brought an opening in the democratic space.

International Organisations – UN sanctions: what they are, how they work, and who uses them (UN News, 4 May 2016)

The UNSC discussed counter-terrorism and non-proliferation at its early May session. At least seven sanctions committees will brief the main United Nations body responsible for maintaining international peace and security. A quick snapshot covering the basics of UN sanctions and how Sanctions Committees work is provided by the UN News Centre within this article.

Environmental Law – ASEAN haze meeting ends on ‘disappointing, bewildering’ note (Today, 4 May 2016)

A meeting of five Association of South-east Asian (ASEAN) nations in Singapore on Wednesday (May 4) to discuss transboundary haze pollution ended on an unexpected note, when a senior Indonesian official declined to take questions at a media conference after the meeting, saying there would be a separate press conference in Jakarta. The five countries had earlier agreed to conduct a new study to assess the impact of the 2015 haze on the region. The Indonesia official’s move prompted Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to issue a media reply in the evening, calling it “disappointing and bewildering”.

International Economic Law – Non-trade issues at WTO, lack of legal experts worry India (The Hindu, 3 May 2016)

Developing nations, including India, are facing a double disadvantage at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), according to Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said these nations are challenged not only by the lack of a sufficient pool of trade law experts to represent them effectively at the DSB but also by certain efforts to bring within the body’s ambit non-trade issues such as labour and environment. She said “such cases would pose a great challenge for developing nations because very often these are conditions that add as restrictions in the freedom of trade particularly for developing countries.” With the global trade slowdown and the consequent rise in trade restrictive measures taken by many countries, the world is witnessing increasing use of trade remedies (such as anti-dumping duty, safeguard duty and countervailing duty), the official said. She said many of these measures are also ending up as disputes at the DSB.

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