June 8, 2022No Comments

Analysis of the nexus between Human Trafficking and Terrorism.

Author: Arianna Caggiano.

This is a critical commentary of the research paper launched by the OSCE Organization: Trafficking in Human Beings and Terrorism. Where and How They Intersect: Analysis and Recommendations for More Effective Policy Response.

Human Trafficking as a tactic of terrorist groups

Over the years, human trafficking has increasingly become a modus operandi used by terrorist groups to finance and carry out their activities. To this extent, as human trafficking constitutes a crime that is usually perpetrated by organized criminal groups, some scholars have stressed that the “crime-terror nexus” implies that both criminal and terrorist organizations might cooperate with each other in the furtherance of their respective goals. Despite the increasing use of organised crime-related tactics deployed by terrorists, in analysing the current legal framework in international law when it comes to trafficking in human beings and terrorism there is still no existing treaty or convention dealing with the nexus between the two phenomena. On the basis of the OSCE paper launched in 2021 on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism, this article will try to critically evaluate from a juridical and legal point of view the analysis and findings developed by the OSCE on this matter.

Comparing Legal and Policy Frameworks of Anti-Trafficking and anti-terrorism Mechanisms

When it comes to the definition of the human trafficking’s legal framework, it is worth emphasizing that it was not until 2000 that a first definition of trafficking in human beings was given in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, better known as the Palermo Protocol. The adoption of the Protocol can be considered as a watershed moment for the legal framework of human trafficking: as of today, it counts 173 signatory States and it can be defined, thus, as almost a universal ratification. A further key role in combating human trafficking is played by regional trafficking treaties, which complement the obligations upon signatory States, especially with reference to victims’ protection. Indeed, as stressed by the OSCE research, a major principle guiding anti-trafficking legislations and policies is the principle of non-punishment of victims of trafficking, according to which Member States are obliged to «assess the individual situation of persons released from the captivity of armed and terrorist groups so as to enable prompt identification of victims of trafficking».

On the other hand, the international legal framework related to terrorism and counterterrorism is considerably more challenging and complex in comparison to the anti-trafficking international legal system. Indeed, despite the existence of a set of treaties, protocols, conventions, Security Council Resolutions, as well as “soft law” and non-binding mechanisms, there is no comprehensive instrument providing a universal and accepted definition of terrorism, as it is the case for human trafficking with the Palermo Protocol

In analysing the nexus between these two phenomena, it is of utmost importance to emphasize the constituent elements of trafficking used as a tactic by terrorist groups. Pursuant art. 3 of the Palermo Protocol, «Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force […] to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. […]». This very intense definition provided by the Protocol, shows three main constituent elements of human trafficking: action, means and purpose.

Therefore, as the OSCE outlines, in evaluating the link between trafficking in human beings and terrorism from a legal perspective, a useful approach would be one that analyses these three constituent elements when exploited by terrorist groups as a tactic to recruit individuals. In this regard, the analysis of the current legal framework on the nexus between the two crimes shows that a harmonisation in the criminalization of terrorism and human trafficking as two offences connected has not been reached yet. Indeed, despite the existence of several instruments that recognize the growing links between terrorism and transnational organized crime, the lack of a definition of terrorism still hinders the internationally community to adopt an internationally agreed-upon approach to terrorism matters, while it is not the case for human trafficking. 

The legal response that has been adopted so far to address cases where the two phenomena intersects has largely focused on criminalizing all individuals related to terrorist activities and groups. The lack of a definition of terrorism has led States to adopt different measures aimed at only criminalizing terrorists and not identifying and protecting victims. Therefore, as highlighted in the research, this approach has showed to have significant consequences for victims, who have risked being held fully accountable for all the crimes they have committed, even though they are victims of human traffickers. Based on these findings, the OSCE research concludes that a human trafficking lens when dealing with terrorist criminal offences should be applied to contribute to victim identification, assistance, rehabilitation and reintegration, and prevention of re-victimization. Therefore, it would be of utmost importance to apply the principle of non-punishment - that already exists in the human trafficking framework – in the anti-terrorism existing legal and policy mechanism. 


This critical commentary has analysed from a legal perspective the comprehensive research carried out by the OSCE organization on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. It has highlighted how the application of anti-trafficking mechanisms, including the principle of non-punishment, in the context of terrorism could help leading in a better way prosecution of criminal offences related to terrorism. The OSCE research might constitute the basis for an international and agreed-upon definition that considers both a security-oriented approach to prevent and prosecute terrorist offences and a human rights-based one, ensuring that victims of terrorism – and trafficked persons exploited by terrorists – are not held accountable and can access to their rights. 

All in all, the OSCE research offers significant food for thought and, using concrete cases, helps filling the knowledge gap of policy makers, academics, practitioners, and legislators on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. 

March 13, 2022No Comments

The Right to Adequate Food

By: Diletta Cosco.

The right to adequate food was firstly recognized in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of human rights in 1948, as well in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man the same year; It then became a “legal entitlement”, “codified in article 11” of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Currently, 163 countries have ratified this convention, yet the right to food needs further practice both nationally and internationally. Since the 1948, especially after the recognition of the right to food into the two declarations mentioned above, the importance of this human right has captured further attention and it has been recognized in other several declarations and treaties.

The right to food is a basic human right protected under international human rights and humanitarian law and is recognized directly or indirectly by virtually all countries in the world through article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Food is considered as part of the right to health and well-being and an important need for a proper “standard of living, health and well-being of people”. The right to food is interconnected with other human rights as well; in fact, the lack of enjoyment of this right excludes the proper enjoyment of “life, dignity or the enjoyment of other human rights”.

The Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural rights adopted a document which defines the definition of the right to food. According to the meaning given, the right to food involves a quantity and quality that should be good enough to allow an individual to fulfil the necessary dietary needs. The right to food implies also a nutrition that is aligned according the culture of a certain individual. The Committee also established a violation of human rights whether a state does not fulfil the right to food to its citizens. The interest to adopt a human right based approach towards the end of hunger constitutes now a core mission in the United Nations (UN) policies which focus in parallel towards the development and fulfilment of human rights. The UN Millennium Development Goals, precisely in the sustainable Goal number 2, encourage states to commit to the guarantee of food to its citizenships and the end of hunger by 2030. The right to food usually requires government’s accountability mainly, but also other international and national actors such as the inter-governmental organizations are doing their parts towards the fulfilment of right to food; although, states play the most crucial role in the fulfilment of right to food. In fact, “states are duty-bearers, while people are right-holders”.Specifically, states are responsible to ensure this right is fulfilled when an agreement, treaties or declaration is signed; this means that states have signed to take part to the compliment of the right to food and consequently adequate legislations are required as well. In fact, states have the primary role to “respect, protect and fulfil” the right to food; conventions, declarations and treaties are necessary but additional instruments are fundamental to facilitate its implementation. Integrating this right into a country’s constitution is the first and most important step to ensure its fulfilment and it represents the greatest commitment that a country can have. Embedding this right into the Constitution would give long-term protection to the right itself and any law found in contrast with the right to food would be submitted for review, as laws that are in contradiction with the right to food are considered unconstitutional. In the case of South America and the Caribbean region, 15 countries have officially included the right to food into their constitution. Even though, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico are the only countries which recognize the right to food for all people, indistinctively. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbeans are a good example of commitment of ending hunger through the manifestation of various declarations about the right to food. A practical commitment should take place through the implementation of this basic human rights into their legislation as well. However, the recognition in constitutions itself is not enough but can be considered as a fair starting point towards the achievement of this objective; laws and legal framework are likewise necessary, cooperation between several actors at national and international level is fundamental as well. 

February 8, 2022No Comments

Natalie Dobson on the Rise of Climate Litigations

Natalie Dobson, assistant professor at Utrecht University on international law and climate change law, explains the rise of 'climate litigations' and its ties to human rights and constitutional law. The expert discusses the contribution that this kind of litigation can bring to the ongoing debate on climate change.

Interviewer: Luca Mattei.

February 4, 2022No Comments

The Perils of Movement in 2022: Understanding the Factors conditioning the Human Security of Migrants

By: Arslan Sheikh, Esther Brito Ruiz and Reka Szabo.

Image Source: https://www.growthinktank.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Photo-by-Sandor-Csudai-is-licensed-under-licence-CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0.jpeg

Human security is conditioned by a variety of external factors - like war or famine - and personal characteristics - such as gender, ethnic identity, or sexuality. These intersecting realities lead to rapidly evolving patterns of threats to human dignity across the globe. Indeed, humanitarian crises or large scale natural disasters serve to reconfigure the lives of those affected and exacerbate already existing social vulnerabilities. In this line, it becomes important to explore how recent political and social developments have notably worsened the conditions of one particular collective of people: migrants. 

Recent estimates suggest that over 281 million people are migrants - amounting to about 3.6 % of the global  population. Yet in spite of the significant increases in people flows across national boundaries, migrant groups continue to be politically, socially, and economically targeted and discriminated against. Migrant communities routinely face difficulties in accessing basic services and often see their identities become instrumentalized for political propaganda. As those seeking refuge, fleeing violence, or attempting to find a better future are confronted with rising political polarisation, stricter border control, and worsening social protections. We must reflect on the barriers to movement that affect this collective and the trends that have come to act as drivers of migration flows. Only then can we understand the severity of the conditions migrants face today. 


Economic trends are significant drivers of migration today. Economic divergence has been growing between countries, highly impacted by the global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available instruments of developing economies aiming at tackling such challenges are much more limited than the ones of advanced economies, which leads to a bifurcated economic recovery. Another longer lasting global challenge to be faced is climate change. Similarly to the pandemic, it impacts countries unevenly: some are going to be more resilient thanks to their more fortunate economic situation and/or geographical location than others. 

Adaptation to climate-related changes are going to have socio-economic consequences for individuals. Unskilled workers, for instance, are going to be vulnerable to industrial transformations — for instance, in carbon-intensive, heavy industries—, and may decide to migrate to countries in which their skills can still be used, in the hope of opportunities of economic advancement.

Climate change and countries’ various responses to it can cause not solely voluntary economic migration in the future, but also large-scale involuntary migration. This falls into the category of societal global risk, influencing numerous countries and industries negatively. Climate action failure is one of the potentially damaging risks that are going to contribute to involuntary migration on a global scale. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, livelihood crises, and social cohesion erosion are also listed by the latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure and extreme weather are the most influential factors. 

Climate change contributes to natural disasters, too. Because of such disasters, internal and cross-border displacement is going to occur. Interestingly, it is not necessarily the direct effects of such disasters that are going to affect migration, but the worsening economic conditions they will cause. This means that links between migration and disasters caused by the accelerating climate change are rather indirect, manifesting in migration caused by decreasing incomes, worsening livelihood opportunities, and changes in food security.

Violence, conflict and persecution are still going to play a role in the future when it comes to migration or displacement, however, data on recent trends indicate that disaster related internal displacement is more common, and, at the same time, more volatile than internal displacement related to the previously mentioned factors.

Another factor to take into account when observing voluntary or involuntary migration, is the lack of possibility to migrate, caused by environmental change. People without assets to move can be trapped in certain areas, which can lead to more defenselessness against environmental change. Meanwhile, these trends are further creating many barriers to migration which need to be addressed simultaneously. 

Image Source: https://cdn.britannica.com/80/187480-050-824606F2/refugees-line-officials-Middle-East-Slovenia-Iraq-October-25-2015.jpg

Contemporary barriers to Migration

The barriers to migration are very complex, interlinked, and multifold. The recent Global Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum has identified several contemporary barriers to migration which include national level barriers, such as the movement restrictions related to the COVID-19, financial pressures in advanced economies, and greater focus on domestic priorities. The report has also identified three potential barriers to the cross-border migration; which include post-pandemic effects on international mobility, future employment trends, and increased national interest postures of several countries.

Movement restrictions because of the COVID-19 have interrupted several migration flows. These restrictions are temporary, but as the post-pandemic economic rebound demands more labour, creating further opportunities for  migrants, Western policymakers need to be prepared to address a new influx of migrants and be able to explain to their residents why welcoming this labour force would not diminish their employment opportunities, as well as why certain post-pandemic employment opportunities would need a migrant labour force to fulfil them. Failure to do so may cause further rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in resident populations.

National interest postures are increasingly becoming a world-wide phenomena where nations are actively reframing their migration policies to exclude migrants from basic financial and healthcare services, as Chile and Peru have done recently. Another such example are the restrictive policies of the  United Kingdom and USA, which originally were implemented because of  public health concerns, but have sustained and are causing a decline in the issuance of visas to  migrants.  

Apart from these issues, the nature of public discourse and disinformation campaigns are making the migration issue worse. Migration has increasingly become a controversial issue in Western countries, generating right-wing and nationalist reactions. The media has played a very important role in this by ‘normalizing discriminatory labels used to describe migrants’, whereas  disinformation campaigns against migrants portray them as a threat to  public health, security, and the economy of host countries are fuelling hate speech and violence against them. These two issues make a crucial impact on the voting behaviours of host countries and the governments they choose to elect, who usually have an anti-migrant stance when framing and implementing the migration policies in their respective countries.


The worsening socio-economic conditions and global trends we have explored have served to notably increase the risks migrants face. Whether it be to emergency displacements, worsening social retribution, or economic push and pull factors, migration is not only becoming a more pronounced phenomenon, but one subject to expanding threats to human dignity. 

As the world reopens its borders and struggles to manage the after-effects of a global pandemic, policy and assistance efforts need to look towards the plight migrants face and provide the resources, social networks, and institutional support necessary to protect the human security of one of the world's most politicised collectives. 

December 23, 2021No Comments

Raziya Masumi on Afghanistan Part II

In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.

Interviewers: Angelo Calianno and John Devine.

December 23, 2021No Comments

Raziya Masumi on Afghanistan Part I

In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.

Interviewers: Angelo Calianno and John Devine.

December 3, 2021No Comments

The legacy of Canadian Residential Schools: the Indigenous Rights Movement and its current Challenges

By: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Reka Szabo. 

Image Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/ashamed-my-faith-catholics-battling-religion-discovery-1.6081426

Recently, unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children were discovered in various locations in Western Canada, in the territory of residential schools. These schools operated between the end of the 19th century until 1996,  and were mostly run by the Catholic Church. The official number of Indigenous children who died in these schools because of mistreatment is 4120, but it is claimed that the actual number could be much larger

Evidence from various studies prove that approximately 150,000 indigenous children were subject to forceful assimilation in these institutions, after having been separated from their families. Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse were among the practicesused in these schools. The high death rate of Indigenous students can be connected to the extremely bad conditions of the schools— such as poor nutrition, the lack of nurses or the inadequate construction or use of the buildings — and to the lack of proper medical treatment provided to indigenous children, among other inhuman practices. The leading cause of death was tuberculosis, easily caught by malnourished children.

The practices of the residential schools have been described as a genocide by several scholars. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after having examined testimonies from thousands of survivors, also announced that these acts are to be classified as cultural genocide against Indigenous people. 

After the discovery of the graves, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau guaranteed financial aid and support to the Indigenous communities in Canada. Furthermore, an initiative of the Survivors of the Mohawk Institute at Six Nations of the Grand River — a large reserve in Canada —  aimed at uncovering more details about the dark legacy of the schools’ past with a death and criminal investigation. Questions still remain about the responsibility, the accountability, and the compensation, regarding the Canadian state and the Catholic Church. 

However, the discrimination of indigenous communties in Canadais not solely a past phenomenon  - according to some studies ongendered violence and on the unequal treatment of indigenous people in Canada, Indigenous minorities still face a very different set of circumstances compared to the majority society. We must also consider that the controversy surrounding the Canadian case is not a localized issue, but the latest in a global movement of recognition and redress led by indigenous communities.

The Global Context for Indigenous Rights

Currently, there are 370 million Indigenous people around the world, spanning over 90 countries, 5,000 communities, and 4,000 languages. As such, the struggle of the indigenous movement is not an ancient issue, but a current and contemporary human security challenge. While there has been progress – most notably marked by the 2007 United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ratified by 143 countries) – indigenous abuses are still erased and forgotten, as we have mentioned in the  case of Canadian residential schools.

The legacy of indigenous communities has been marked by a rich history and vital contributions to our culture and environment (for example, in safeguarding 80% of global biodiversity) – however, it has also been defined by horrific atrocities. Well-known is the case of Native American communities, numbering over 10 million before European colonization, and decimated to under 300.000 by the 1900s. Indigenous peoples continue to face continuous and pervasive human rights abuses – ranging from assimilation policies, to land dispossession, the criminalization of protest, or abuses by armed forces. These abuses extend globally – having worsened in recent years and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – and most severely affect communities defending their rights and lands. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many indigenous communities. Today, the most prominent topic in discussions and advocacy within indigenous communities remains the issue of land rights and the resources they harbor. 

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobili/32358569142

Indigenous Peoples and Natural Resources

Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with natural resources. But from the times of colonisation to the present day, theirrights over these resources have been continuously violated. Even though they make up five-percent of the world’s population, they account for about fifteen-percent of the extreme poor. The major cause of this discrepancy owes to the history of colonisation, subjugation, and oppression. They regularly lack formal recognition over their lands and other natural resources, and are often last to get public investments, access to justice, political participation, and face various obstacles to partake in the formal economy.

Around a quarter of all land outside Antarctica belongs to Indigenous Peoples. But much of this land occupied by them is undercustomary ownership, and most of the governments all over the world acknowledge only a small percentage of this land as lawfully belonging to Indigenous Peoples. The unstable land tenancy is a cause of conflict, environmental degradation, and inadequate economic and social development. This endangers Indigenous Peoples’ culture and knowledge systems both of which have an extremely valuable contribution in maintaining ecological integrity and conserving nature and biodiversity.

As per World Bank, ‘’Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, promoting public investments in quality and culturally appropriate service provision, and supporting indigenous systems for resilience livelihoods are critical to reducing the multidimensional aspects of poverty while contributing to the SDGs.’’

The crucial role of social movements

It appears that legal frameworks for the protection of Indigenous People’s rights have been established, but land rights are not yet addressed by state actors and international organizations. Often, aboriginal communities lament a pattern of broken promises and a series of failures within development projects that have been promoted by such actors. This is due in part to the difficulty in questioning the power relations within the structure in which they operate. What is also elided by the mainstream narrative, are the continuities between the colonial past and the present. A postcolonial perspective on the matter has been proposed by many indigenous scholars that investigate colonial legacies to explain the nowadays imbalances between indigenous people and the broader society. Inequities are evident in regard to the land and resources issues but encompass almost every aspect of society, most notably healthcare. A postcolonial approach has been put into practice by many social movements, activists, and advocates for Indigenous People’s rights. Protests and movements, like Idle No More in Canada, emerge from the aboriginal communities and amplify their voices in the many arenas in which decisions are made. They represent the opportunity to contrast the structural violence they face, through ‘grassroots’ discourses around their conditions and demands and cooperations with governments and international actors. In response to the recent discovery of yet another atrocity committed in the residential ‘schools’, Idle No More has asked to cancel Canada Day to ultimately acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism and violence in Canada’s history; Fifty municipalities have accepted the proposal out of respect and justice.

The Canadian case serves to illustrate what remains an evolving redress and human rights struggle for indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous human security continues to be precarious in most states, and despite the increasing recognition of these transnational advocacy movements, much remains to be done. As states seek to fulfil their obligations to ensure the wellbeing of their communities, a renewed focus must be placed on the recognition of indigenous peoples and their voices as rightful custodians of their land, resources, and culture. If the promises of a post-colonial global order are to be realized, it is indigenous communities that will define and lead the way to achieving it. 

November 16, 2021No Comments

Insights from Joanna Chiu’s book, “China Unbound, A New World Disorder”

By: Sandra Watson Parcels

Joanna Chiu’s book, China Unbound: A New World Disorder, describes China as a global bully who uses various tactics in its attempts to create a new world order. The new world disorder Chiu describes in her book exposes troubling implications for global stability and human rights. 

China is the world’s second-largest economy with far reaching political and economic influence. Jan Wong, Globe and Mail Bureau Chief in Beijing from 1989 to 1994 recalls when China’s markets began to open and there was a strong desire for global friendship. However, since President Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012, China has gone from underdog to bully.

Xi is an admirer of ancient legalist scholars and quoted Han Fei, a legalist scholar from 200-233 BCE, to justify why his citizens should submit to a strong leader; ‘When those who uphold the law are strong, the state is strong.’ In one speech to party members, he discussed the lessons to learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union and how its wavering ideology, political rot, and military disloyalty caused its downfall. 

Experts search to understand why Xi and his cohorts have increased attacks on civil society to such unprecedented levels. Noble Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, died in 2017 in Chinese custody. This was the first Noble Peace Prize winner to die in police custody since Nazi Germany. An account of a Kazakhstan Uyghur woman imprisoned in a Chinese internment camp in Xinjiang province provides a rare glimpse into the horrid human right violations intensifying under Xi’s reign. After 15 months of arbitrary captivity, she was released. A nurse attempted to take the shackles off her ankles, but the metal had dug so deep for so long that the metal had stuck to her skin. Depriving her of sunlight for over a year, her captors fed her watery soup and steamed buns which reduced her weight to 35kg. After her release, she moved to Turkey and was interviewed there about her experience.

In 2014, the Umbrella movement was born in Hong Kong as protesters fought to retain their democratic characteristics enshrined in “two systems, one country” doctrine. But, by June 2020, China’s National Security Law came into effect and abolished the 50-year agreement with Britain in Hong Kong. The law aspires to regulate and punish actions against/by any individual of any nationality anywhere in the world. In response, many countries quickly moved to cancel extradition treaties with Hong Kong. Legal experts sounded the alarm that any individual who has said anything critical of China should avoid travelling to China.

There is an old fable in China that all Chinese descend from the yellow emperor so no matter where Chinese people reside, they are part of the motherland. Recently minority groups in China have also been added to the myth by China’s Communist Party (CCP). China has created an overseas organization, called United Front, that spies on and harasses Chinese diaspora. This exemplifies a key element of Beijing’s strategy for harassment to target common individuals and groups and is often overlooked by governments and media. 

For decades, most countries in the world have followed along with aspects of China’s One China policy that declares Taiwan as Chinese territory. As a result, Taiwan has been diplomatically isolated, despite being independent since 1949 and a vibrant democracy for the past five decades. China now threatens Taiwan’s sovereignty on almost a daily basis. Beijing also claims approximately 90 percent of the South China Seas, including the territorial waters and economic zones of various other countries in the region. 

Canada and Australia are middle powers that recently came face-to-face with China’s bullying and aggression. Canada has significant influence on the world stage due to its rich natural resources, membership in the G7 group of advanced economies, and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In December 2018, Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial officer of Huawei, was arrested by Canadian authorities on behalf of the United States for allegations of fraud. Chinese media reported that Xi flew into a rage directed at Canada. Days later, two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – were arrested in a blatant act of hostage diplomacy. Canadian Robert Schellenberg, already sentenced to 15 years in a Chinese prison, was resentenced to death in an act of death-threat diplomacy. Even though the tone in Ottawa has recently changed and there are calls for a tougher stance on China, there is still no real effort to reduce Canada’s vulnerability to Beijing and shift trade to other markets. Australia, as another middle power, caught the world’s attention when it passed the Foreign Interference law that stood up to Beijing’s aggression, showing that even though they are economically reliant on China, it would not be used for political manipulation.

Italy and Greece look at China as more of a solution to their economic woes. Italy joined China’s New Silk Road project in 2019. The European Commission scolded Italy and created a strategy paper on ways to deal with Beijing. The European Union (EU) also moved to restrict Beijing’s investment in European infrastructure. Greece joined China’s New Silk Road in 2018. The Port of Piraeus is now controlled by China and is hailed as an economic success as it becomes the main Mediterranean gateway for the New Silk Road between Asia and Europe. Chinese officials made many visits to Greece during its economic crisis. It was a smart strategy by Beijing to pander to the black sheep of Europe. In 2017, Greece vetoed an EU statement of human rights abuses in China, and it has become clear that China is using chequebook-diplomacy for political leverage in Greece.

There are fears that China’s aggressive behavior and the world’s subsequent reaction is leading to a new Cold War. Russia has often been brazenly anti-American. Russia’s economic reliance on China continues to grow, while Russian goods only makeup one percent of China’s world trade. There is increased concern in Russia that the Chinese may encroach on their influence in Central Asia. However, external pressures by the West for a united front against China and Russia is pushing them closer. The United States, under the Biden administration has moved closer to its allies then the previous administration, such as the joint action by the US, Canada, the UK, and the EU to impose parallel sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass interment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. President Biden has also brought back the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (The QUAD) which includes the US, India, Japan, and Australia. The United States must be a global defender but can only do that successfully by also addressing its own actions. Its recent domestic trends of fake news and oversimplified soundbites has created anger and confusion that often discredits fact-based criticisms of China. As tensions increase on legitimate concerns, disinformation could push the world to outright conflict.

For years, the world has ignored, overlooked, and mishandled China’s actions out of economic self-interest. 

As China’s toxic aggression grows into oppression, expansion and human rights violations, the world can no longer be complicit in its behaviour. If China is not stopped, its aggressive actions against both states and individuals will change the international world order into a new world disorder.

November 5, 2021No Comments

The Right to a Healthy Environment: A Change of Logic?

By: Luca Mattei

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/KVWBuZ8DyC0

In recent decades scientists have proved that humankind is entering the Anthropocene: a new geological era where the effects of human activities and pollution will push the environment towards a collapse of its ecological equilibrium. The growing concerns about this shift, have been recently reflected in the Resolution 48/13 of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which acknowledges a close link between ‘environmental degradation and climate change’ to human subsistence. 

To sum up, this UN HRC Resolution recognizes ‘the right to a healthy environment’ as a full-fledged human right. This development has been welcomed by human rights experts. Notably, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed satisfaction, mentioning that: 

‘Bold action is now required to ensure this resolution on the right to a healthy environment serves as a springboard to push for transformative economic, social and environmental policies that will protect people and nature’. 

Indeed, this is a historical development, but also a topic for scholarly debates. In fact, the catastrophic consequences of the deterioration of the global ecosystem are leading experts to question the ‘state of the art’ of the international legal structure. More precisely, does international law play a role on the ongoing environmental crisis? In this paper, I will argue that the ‘right to a healthy environment’ does not break with the traditional thought and structure of international law; rather it provides an additional perspective to it.  

The birth of the ‘homo economicus’

International law does not engage thoroughly on the protection of the environment. It is significant how even in landmarking environmental treaties – such as the Rio Declaration and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – the main focus is on economic expansion and land exploitation rather than protection of nature. For scholar Anne Grear, this approach is coherent with the Western cultural myth of ‘rational human subject’ and the construct deriving from such ideology. 

According to this reconstruction, since the famous pronouncement of René Descartes, cogito ergo sum, the idea that above all there is human rationality has been thriving throughout Europe. However, Grear claims that this narrative is exclusionary at its roots, as only a precise kind of rationality is endorsed: behind the illusion of objective rationality lies a design that promotes certain hierarchies. This includes a specific kind of relationship between humankind and nature.

Indeed, analysing national contexts, most countries in the world address the conservation of the environment in their legal systems; however, the same becomes more uncertain in the international setting. For instance, this is visible within the 8 Millennium Sustainable Goals  (MDGs): out of the eight points enshrined in this agenda, only the seventh is about ‘environmental sustainability’ and among the four targets within the latter ‘only two were genuinely about environmental conditions’.

The idea that humankind can bend ‘nature’ as it pleases has been further promoted through the rise of international corporations, which can escape both territorial and legal boundaries. In the past, these associations of interest were subservient to the goals of the Western elite, aiming to exploit developing countries, their ‘nature’ and resources. However, as suggested by Grear, corporations have now become so prominent that they have managed to emancipate themselves and become a sort of ‘homo economicus’ based on legal fiction. This is the pinnacle of what is meant to be 'rational' according to the Western legacy, but, paradoxically, this is detrimental even to their former creators. Like a golem without its master: international corporations can now continue their mission of exploiting the Earth and its resources with hardly any restraints. 

The environment as a ‘grundnorm’

Today, this tradition in international law is being challenged. New international treaties and standards are leading countries in adopting sustainable approaches in their development policies. for a contribution to this shift comes from human rights law: in the landmarking Urgenda Case, the Dutch Supreme Court stated that ‘the government had to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020, respectful of commitments made in the Paris Agreements’. 

Interestingly, the court stated that this decision was made in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has recognized the importance of environmental protection, as nature is inevitably intertwined with relevant ‘human rights’, such as the ‘right to food’. 

This seems consistent with scholars Kim and Bosselman’s position, which suggests that ecological integrity should be understood as a conditio sine qua non – or grundnorm – of international law, as the equilibrium of the ecosystem is necessary for the subsistence of humankind. Hence, the call for a sort of ‘international constitutionalism’ which should be capable to work within the decentralized system of the international community:

‘Where there is a regulatory gap, this grundnorm fills the void. Where there is already a treaty obligation, it reinforces and clarifies treaty obligations in light of the planetary boundaries framework.’

Whereas the proposal of Kim and Bosselman is undoubtedly bold, it is undeniable that big progress has been made in this sense. The Urgenda Case itself is proof that, perhaps, a decentralized environment protection system is not impossible. Nonetheless, ‘the right to a healthy environment’ is not such a radical innovation.

Concluding remark

The challenge of ‘climate change’ is arguably one of the main reasons why ‘green movements’ have gained momentum in the last decades. Because of this threat, the wild exploitation of the Earth – based on traditional ‘human subject rationality’ – is starting to increasingly sound irrational. Still, the response of the international community continues to be mainly human-centric and tied to human rights law. 

Therefore, what we are witnessing with the UN Resolution 48/13 is a ‘greening’ of pre-existing human rights. The traditional foundation of international law is unchallenged. However, while humanity remains the main yardstick to assess the protection of nature, this new approach, could represent a gradual path towards a more comprehensive protection of the environment and human survival in the context of ‘climate change’.

October 8, 2021No Comments

The great contemporary human security crises of South Asia: Kashmir and Afghanistan

Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Arslan Sheikh and Ludovica Brambilla

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/C-17_carrying_passengers_out_of_Afghanistan.jpg

The last two years have been the site of unexpected human security crises -  ranging from a global pandemic to the collapse of states. South Asia particularly has been subjected to important crises that have echoed across the region and had global consequences. Maybe the two most significant of these crises have been the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the enduring crises in Kashmir. Both these situations have seen human security determine the broader trajectory of national security, and can serve as examples of why to promote any kind of stability, the wellbeing of the people must come first. 

Afghanistan: the consequences of setting human security aside

​​The Afghanistan crisis clearly represents the consequence of failing to centralize and protect human security. In the wake of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, which was originally deployed under the justification of anti-terrorist efforts – seeking the capture of Bin Laden and the countering of Al Qaeda – little good has remained after the end to two decades of occupation and trillions of dollars of investment. With the Taliban back in power and a looming humanitarian catastrophe – in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres – this crisis is one of the most severe threats to human security today.

But the real impact we can expect on the lives of Afghans remains multifaceted. Firstly, we have seen the weeks since the US withdrawal marked by a resurgence of terrorism in the state - as evidenced by the Daesh-K August 26 attack on the Kabul airport. Secondly, as a result of the war and widespread violence, the country now has over four million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), contending not only with overcrowded camps and a lack of access to basic services - like clean water - but also with the increase of COVID-19 cases. Afghans are facing a possible famine, collapsing health services, and a paralyzed economy in the wake of the seizing of most of the country’s reserves. In fact, the country’s Central Bank has been expelled from the international banking system and refused access to both the states’ foreign reserves and any international credit and assets assistance – including that which it had been previously granted to combat the rise of COVID. As a result of this economic paralysis, prices of food and essential goods have experienced an exponential rise and most financial services and banks have been left unable to operate or provide money to residents. This compromises the survival of local populations – especially those already most vulnerable. As this situation worsens, over 40% of the Afghan population faces acute food insecurity. Beyond these circumstances, the behaviour itself from Taliban authorities  is a core threat to the rights and security of its citizens – especially for women and minorities. Massacres of ethnic and religious minorities – specifically of Hazara men in recent weeks – and retribution killings to collaborators of the US army set a worrying precedent to what opposition groups will experience in coming months, as the Taliban secure their rule and repress revolts. Indeed,  Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has affirmed that “the lives of millions of Afghans will depend on how the Taliban choose to govern”. With little response from recent UN Human Rights Council sessions and assistance on the ground from United Nations agencies and aid organizations being scaled back due to security concerns, prospects are not positive.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) await a flight at Al Udeied Air Base, Qatar August 17. Marines are assisting the Department of State with an orderly drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries). Source: US Military

The severe human crisis in Afghanistan we see today is a consequence of an erroneous and militaristic view of what national security and peace requires. Peace begins with the security not of broad governments or the promotion of abstract values, but with the security of the people – established and maintained through access to the basic tenants of a dignified life; including education, food, healthcare, and jobs. By choosing not to center human security, the US acted more as an empire than as an ally for the Afghan people - and in their retreat, little care has been given to the wellbeing of locals and the crises left behind for them to endure. We can wonder what the situation would be today if the focus of the international community’s involvement in this state was for its communities to thrive – rather than the imposition of strategic goals for external parties. In the words of Ibrahim Al Marashi, “America’s failure to address human security ended up harming its national security”. 

With the world facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of the last decades, Afghanistan’s people have been left to contend with the human crisis of a pandemic and a state collapse simultaneously. While proposals to extend the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have been put forth, the likelihood of this engagement in the long term is minimal. Afghanistan now faces a human security crisis in almost every of its expressions - combining a political and economic crisis, a compromised food and healthcare system, and personal and communal threats to life. The way this crisis develops over the next few months will profoundly impact not only Afghans and their future, but the trajectory of all of South Asia. 

Kashmir: the forgotten crisis of water security

Water Security is sometimes considered the most important component of human security - since the very basic survival of life is dependent on it. Additionally, water insecurity effectively compromises all other expressions of human security; thus putting the very continued existence of human communities at grave risk. Despite this, it has often become sidelined in conversations regarding international security and humanitarian crises. Specifically, the water-security nexus over transboundary river basins among riparian countries is a growing concern, which will need to be dealt with increased urgency in the wake of the escalating consequences of climate change.

Among such various transboundary river basins, the Indus River Basin (IRB) in South Asia represents a peculiar case. The IRB flows through the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is now divided through a Line-of-Control - a de facto border between India and Pakistan. While this area has a relatively successful water management framework - in the form of Indus Water Treaty - there is no institutional and legal framework which addresses the effects of climate change on water availability in the IRB. This is a delicate situation, as the IRB has become the second ‘most overstressed aquifer’ in the world because of the area’s growing population and the development pressures of both shoreline countries. 

The issue of water security in the region is a potential future source of state conflict and a prime human security issue. The territorial conflict over the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has led India and Pakistan into three conventional wars in 1947, 1965 and 1999 respectively. Both these countries have built major dam infrastructures on the IRB for irrigation and hydroelectricity. In India, it is one of the two main river systems supporting the country’s water deficient areas of the north-west. In fact, according to NITI Aayog, a public policy think-tank of the Government of India, “India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, with around six-hundred million people facing high to extreme water stress and about two-hundred thousand people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water’’. However, even this report mentions no data on water management and composition of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir - still a delicately trodden political issue. In turn, Pakistan is exclusively dependent on IRB for irrigation and hydropower. Thus, this basin represents a vital source for their national food, water, and energy security. This dependency is worsened by the severe water shortages and declining water per capita availability that Pakistan has been facing in recent years. As such, hydro-politics over the IRB have put the growing population of both countries at an extreme risk - both in terms of human security and with regards to broader state conflict. With the perennial tensions between India and Pakistan, and the frequent indication of IRB being used as a geopolitical weapon, the water security of South Asia’s most populated region remains an imminent threat.


Both the cases presented evidence a simple truth - security, at any level, lays its foundations on the wellbeing of the people. In the absence of this, there can be no sense of stability or continuity. Afghanistan and Kashmir serve to remind us that even with vested national security interests, state and military involvement, and capital investment, those endeavours  that forgo human security will eventually face violence, conflict,  and possible internal collapse.