Newsletter 2009/8 (Aug)
News & Events
NUS-AsianSIL Conference on Sovereign Wealth Funds: Governance and Regulation
NUS Law School, Singapore
9-11 September 2009
The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Asian Society of International Law (AsianSIL) convened a highly successful Conference on Sovereign Wealth Funds: Governance and Regulation at the NUS Law School in Singapore on 9-11 September 2009. The report and photos of the conference will soon be available.
Membership of the AsianSIL is open to any person or institution that has an interest in and respect for international law and supports the objectives of the Society.
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Asia and International Law
Developments and news pertaining to Asia in various areas of IL
Law of the Sea – A Peek Inside the U.N.'s Continental Shelf Commission (IHT, 14 September 2009)
According to article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal states have exclusive economic control to the waters and seabed stretching 200 nautical miles (nm) from their shores. Article 4 of Annex 2 of the UNCLOS further states that if States intend to extend their ocean bottom territory to beyond 200nm, they should “submit particulars of such limits to the Commission along with supporting scientific and technical data as soon as possible but in any case within 10 years of the entry into force of this Convention for that State”.
For early signatory states (i.e. those who ratified the UNCLOS by 13 May 1999), that deadline was 13 May 2009. Thus far, 51 countries have submitted claims to the Commission, while 40 more have formally indicated their intentions to do so. A nod in favor by the Commission gives governments free rein to exploit natural resources lying at or beneath the ocean floor. This report gives a brief overview on how the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf operates.
International humanitarian law, peace and security – Will the conflict in northern Myanmar intensify? (Reuters, 1 September 2009)
The recent incursion by the Myanmar army into the northeastern Shan region not only broke a 20-year truce with the rebel factions, it also caused hundreds of deaths as well as an estimated 30,000 people crossing the border into China to flee the conflict. Disturbed by the unrest, China firmly told Myanmar to handle its domestic problems properly, maintain stability in the border regions, and to "protect the security and legal rights" of its citizens within Myanmar.
Security analysts predict that such more internal unrest could follow as the junta might provoke fighting with its ethnic minorities in the run-up to the 2010 elections so as to gain power over these autonomous regions.
While the international community has always believed that China holds the key to Myanmar’s peaceful transformation, the Crisis Group’s latest report on Myanmar suggests that the Chinese influence might be less than originally believed.
Border with China most peaceful: Krishna (Times of India, 8 September 2009)
Heightened concerns over the China-India border have occurred in recent weeks. At the start of September, the Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor announced that India had lodged a protest with the Chinese authorities after a Chinese helicopter entered into Indian territory. The Army has also stated it intends to pursue the matter, especially since there has been “evidence” of incursions, such as the word “China” sprayed in red on rocks at the border. However, the Indian Foreign Ministry has taken a more measured response. Foreign Minister S M Krishna has declared that the border with China is “one of the most peaceful boundaries” that India has shared with other states. The Chinese media has also criticized the Indian media for stoking up anti-Chinese sentiment over the issue.
Environment – Republic of Indonesia (RI) secures financial backing from the UK on climate change (Jakarta Post, 15 September 2009)
While the countdown to Copenhagen is fraught with difficulty and many developing countries argue that carbon restrictions impede their economic growth, Indonesia has secured funding from the British Government for development programs related to climate change. In the 5-year roadmap, the energy, forestry, transportation, waste management, agriculture, maritime and fisheries, water resources and health sectors are slated to receive priority funds from the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will act as an interim trustee to disburse these monies.
ASEAN regional ministers to meet in S'pore next month to discuss haze problem (Channel News Asia, 15 September 2009)
ASEAN environment ministers will meet in Singapore on October 28 to discuss the haze problem. Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said Singapore has offered to help Indonesia combat its forest fires if the country needs assistance. Malaysia has also offered assistance to Indonesia.
However, concerted efforts have been slow as Indonesia and Philippines have not ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution which was signed in 2002. Nonetheless, Dr Yaacob said, “Even though Indonesia has not ratified, we have moved forward because we realise that we have other challenges which cannot wait. Thus far, Singapore and Malaysia have made progress by collaborating with some of the local provinces. We acknowledge that Indonesia has been trying to implement measures to bring down the hotspots [and] we believe that the Indonesian government remains sincere in combating haze… It will take strong political resolve by Indonesia to enforce their laws to prevent forest fires, support and cooperation within ASEAN, as well as resources from the international community, to successfully battle the transboundary haze problem.”
Human rights and development – UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict; calls for end to impunity (UN Press Release, 15 September 2009)
The UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone has released its long-awaited report on the Gaza conflict, concluding that there is evidence of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict – that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity. The report also concludes that there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel.
The Mission recommended that the UN Security Council require Israel to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified in its Report. The Mission further recommended that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions. If independent proceedings are not underway within six months, the report recommended that the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor.
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) fund cut to affect ASEAN human rights body (Business Mirror, 15 September 2009)
The establishment of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) has met yet another obstacle. ASEAN leaders are all set to institute the AICHR in October 2009 at the ASEAN Summit in Thailand with the final approval of the terms of reference that guides the operations of AICHR. While the location of the secretariat is yet to be confirmed, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo stated that situating the AICHR in Manila was part of the commitments made by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to ASEAN, alongside the establishment of a regional headquarters of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The commitment to the AICHR secretariat is now likely to be undermined by budgetary constraints – the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has approved only 12.394 billion pesos (259.5 million USD) for 2010, even lower than the current allocation of 12.543 billion pesos (262.6 million USD). Romulo urged the DBM to reconsider the funding allocation because President Arroyo supports the establishment of the AICHR office in the Philippines.
An overview of the AICHR-building process can be found in this report.
Afghan president defends vote, admits some bias (AP, 18 September 2009)
A month after the presidential elections were held in Afghanistan on 20 August, President Hamid Karzai openly defended the integrity of the elections on 17 September, after preliminary results showed that he held a substantial lead over his closest rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai holds 54.6% of the vote compared to Abdullah’s 27.7%. Karzai told reporters at the Presidential Palace, "I believe firmly in the integrity of the election, in the integrity of the Afghan people and in the integrity of the government in that process.” However, Karzai also conceded that "there were some government officials who were partial” towards him and those who had “manipulated results to favour Abdullah”.
These rampant allegations of fraudulent elections, including the European Union election monitors’ assertion that a third of Karzai’s votes are suspect, have prompted investigations and recounts. As a candidate needs 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff election, and the high possibility of Karzai gaining less than 50% of the vote after the recounts, observers fear that any runoff could be delayed till next spring, exacerbating tensions and violence in the country.
There are growing fears among the United States and European officials that Afghanistan might be further destabilized during this period given the Afghan government’s already low credibility among its people and weakening domestic support in Western countries for troop deployment. Italian President Silvio Berlusconi has announced that the country is planning to “bring [its] young men home as soon as possible” after the suicide bomb attack on 17 September killed 6 Italian soldiers.
Sri Lankan War Refugees Impatient to Leave Camps, UN Envoy Says (Bloomberg, 18 September 2009)
United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has sent Under Secretary General For Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, to discuss the implementation of Sri Lankan commitments made to Ban when he visited the state in May. The most urgent agenda was the conditions of the “internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps, getting them out and getting them home as soon as possible.”
According to a Reuters report, the IDPs released by the Sri Lankan government last week were merely moved to “transfer camps”. However, the Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has assured that these people will be “sent home soon, in a few days or weeks.” The government says its plan to resettle the mainly Tamil civilians by December depends on ensuring security in the north and clearing mines from conflict areas.
On the matter of a video showing the Sri Lankan army executing 9 persons, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston, has commented that while Sri Lanka has carried out a prompt investigation, the government’s legal obligation was to undertake a “thorough, prompt and impartial” probe. Alston further stated that there were issues that “warranted further study to ascertain whether the video was authentic and the only way to do this was for an independent and impartial investigation to take place.”
Trade and investment – India changed attitude on Doha talks (Reuters India, 16 September 2009)
After repeated stalling, the Doha talks are finally restarting. World leaders hope to finalise substantive issues by the end of 2010 to boost world trade and the global economy. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that this could boost the world economy by $300-700 billion a year. A key player from the developing world in the Doha process is India, and the British Trade Minister Mervyn Davies has noted that India’s positive attitude towards the talks is extremely helpful and had supported the process by hosting a trade ministers' meeting this month.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiators have now agreed on a 3-month work plan to decide on agricultural and industrial tariff cuts, farm subsidies as well as trade in services so that the overall talks can be concluded next year.
International organizations – New General Assembly President opens session with call for UN reform (UN News Centre, 15 September 2009)
The General Assembly opened its 64th annual session with its new President, Ali Treki of Libya, calling for reform of the United Nations with an expanded Security Council representing full geographic diversity and an Assembly that has the ability to implement its resolutions. Currently only resolutions of the 15-member Council, and not those of the 192-member Assembly, are legally binding.
“The General Assembly, which represents the entire world, has been hampered by the obstacles in its path,” Dr. Treki said in his opening speech. “It has been unable to implement or enforce its resolutions. The General Assembly must be reformed to regain its international legitimacy by ensuring that its voice is heard and respected and its resolutions implemented.” Turning to the Security Council, he noted that Africa comprises 53 States, none of which is a permanent member – a position held only by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States. Such is the case, too, of Latin America and the Forum of Small States, which account for over half of the world’s inhabitants.
“It is vital to reform the Security Council and to revitalize the General Assembly so that they can comprehensively fulfil their roles,” Dr. Treki declared.