The Hague, ICJ

UN Orders Russia to Cease Operations in Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on February 24th shook the world, as well as international affairs organizations such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the United Nations (UN). Just three days after these events transpired, Ukraine filed a suit to the ICJ calling out Russian military forces for having manipulated “the concept of genocide” in order to justify their invasive actions. On March 16th, the ICJ responded with a ruling that Russia must “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February.” More specifically, Russia has been asked to not only suspend current military operations and retract their deployments, but to also make sure that any Russian-backed units, whether they be paramilitary or “irregular units,” cease their respective activities immediately. The Court came to their verdict on a 13-2 vote, with Russian ICJ Vice-President Kirill Gevorgian and Judge Xue Hanqin of China dissenting. 

The details of the suit and the official ruling concern the interpretation of guidelines under the Genocide Convention, a document that comprises various agreements for its 152 signatory countries, which includes both Ukraine and Russia. Alongside the ruling, President of the Court Joan Donoghue of the U.S. detailed “how any military operation, in particular one on the scale carried out by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, inevitably causes loss of life, mental and bodily harm, and damage to property and to the environment.” Thus, they clearly meet the conditions within the Genocide Convention that makes them guilty of breaching international law. Along with the suffering that thousands of civilians have had to endure, the ICJ stands firm in their statement that both parties must not engage in any activities that may “aggravate or extend the dispute…or make it more difficult to resolve.” 

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that in the time between Ukraine’s filing of their suit and the ICJ’s response, the country has suffered a severe loss of life and damage to infrastructure. Further, there is no clear indication from Russia that they will cease their advancement or leave their East-European neighbor any time soon. On the day after the ICJ released their ruling, spokesman of the Moscow Kremlin Dmitry Peskov stated plainly that “Russia cannot take this decision into account.” It is not expected that Russia will respond to the calls for peace given the additional fact that they refused to send representatives to a court hearing earlier this month held by the ICJ. 

Every effort by either Ukrainian or UN officials at amending this conflict has been either blatantly ignored by the Kremlin or countered by claims of Ukraine committing genocide. Russia’s Foreign Ministry went so far as to say that they were acting to end a “systematic extermination of the Donbas population,” pitting the blame for the start of this war on Ukraine. Despite these claims, however, there remains no evidence that there has been any “extermination” of people in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Additionally, most of the international community agree that the current armed conflict began when Russian troops entered Ukraine in February shortly after president Vladmir Putin, in a televised speech, announced his “special military operation” in the neighboring country. 

As the war continues to rage, it remains unclear whether or not Russia will take any measures to work towards a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, their actions up to this point indicate that they will not follow the ICJ’s ruling. The powers of the UN as well are limited to such declarations as we see in the most recent ruling, and therefore the removal of Russia from Ukraine will likely only come about through voluntary action on the part of the Russian military. As with many other cases of international conflict throughout recent history, we are witnessing the complications that arise when a country chooses to act independently of the wishes of the UN. Given that they are in fact just wishes and hold no right of enforcement, we can only hope that other acts of diplomacy will work to mitigate this issue. 

Jacob Margolis is from Towson, Maryland and is studying Political Science and History.

View of the ICJ courtroom on the first day of the hearings

The Gambia v. Myanmar Reaches Second Round of Hearings

On Nov. 11th, 2019, The Gambia brought charges against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) citing that the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in the Rakhine State of Myanmar was in violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. There have been two rounds of hearings, the first in Dec. 2019 and the second round concluding on Feb. 28th.

The Gambia’s charges stem from events dating back to 1977 when Myanmar launched Operation King Dragon which was the military’s first crackdown on the Rohingya, the country’s Indo-Aryan ethnic group. The native minority population was then deprived of their citizenship and declared illegitimate. What followed were massacres, gang rape, torture, apartheid, torture, starvation, destruction, and displacement. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the Rohingya, “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world.” After the military crackdown, the escalation of violence persisted with an increased military presence in the north of the Rakhine state, a region on the west coast of Myanmar where the majority of Rohingya people live. Since then, Rohingya have tried to flee the state by attempting to find refuge in Bangladesh. While some have been successful in their endeavors, others have been turned away and sent back to Myanmar. The greatest number of people tried to flee in 2017, capping the numbers at over 700,000 refugees. Most of them are currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, waiting to be repatriated. Since then, the issues and atrocities have persisted while the Rohingya people have been eagerly waiting for international intervention.

In Dec. 2019, the first of the court hearings were held where Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended her country against the allegations declaring, “genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.” Nevertheless, in Jan. 2020, the ICJ unanimously adopted measures to protect the Rohingya, although it does not have the means to enforce them. The court hearing for Myanmar’s preliminary objections was set for late Feb. 2022. However, before this date for preliminary objections, the democratic government of Myanmar was overthrown in a coup d’état by the military junta called the Tatmadaw.

The recent public hearing began on Feb. 21, 2022, and it concluded on Feb. 28, 2022. During this hearing, The Gambia made a plea to the judges asking for the case to move quickly so that justice is not delayed for the Rohingya. Although not officially recognized by the United Nations, the Tatmadaw junta represented Myanmar in February’s court. Some activists, however, have welcomed the junta to speak because in past history it has only been by proxy that the military has spoken. In court, lawyers representing the junta encouraged the judges to abandon the case due to a lack of jurisdiction. 

However, the question remains as to what The Gambia, instead of a country directly pertinent to the conflict like Bangladesh, has to gain by filing this case given that it is located over 10,000 kilometers away from Myanmar. This could be motivated by religious solidarity as The Gambia is a majority Muslim country, as are the Rohingya people. Conversely, Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country. Backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its 57 members, The Gambia is representing the first time that a country without any direct connection to the atrocities has filed a claim under the Genocide Convention. The military junta has criticized The Gambia for acting as a proxy for the OIC. However, due to support from UN member states, this was disregarded by the ICJ. 

During this hearing, The Gambia asked the judges to move the case quickly so that justice is not delayed for the Rohingya. However, decisions from the ICJ can take upwards of a year to get passed. The ICJ has been criticized for being ineffective due to its long response times and lack of enforcement. Even though in Jan. 2020, it imposed provisional measures directing Myanmar to stop the genocide, only the UN Security Council has the authority to enforce it. What people can hope for is quick judicial action which would lead to concrete measures that could help the Rohingya. Continued care from Bangladesh would prove to be helpful although providing for a large number of refugees is taxing on their own economic system. What would need to be done in Myanmar is to reform the laws which currently deny Rohingya citizenship. Only when there is international pressure on Myanmar to cease the genocide and give citizenship status can integration back into the country take place. Before that occurs, the question stands what else could be done between the recent round of hearings and the unveiling of the court decision.
Polyna Uzun is from Cary, North Carolina and is studying Public Policy. 

International Court of Justice

UN Orders Uganda to Pay War Reparations

On Wednesday, Feb. 9th, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the United Nations (UN) ordered that Uganda pay $325 million in war reparations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The dispute was first brought to the UN in 1999, and this new ruling comes 17 years after the UN had initially found Uganda to have breached international law by violating the principle of non-intervention in the DRC. This charge entails infringing on the right of a sovereign state to conduct its internal affairs without outside intervention. Additionally, they allegedly breached human rights law through the brutalities committed by their army on the people of the DRC. The conflict, which officially lasted from 1998-2003 and involved both rebel incursions and outsider attacks, was believed to have brought about a devastating hundreds of thousands of deaths, though there is no official confirmation on the exact amount, as well as the displacement of up to 500,000 people. Judiciary officials have stated that the DRC’s representatives were not able to prove that Uganda was responsible for the deaths of any more than 15,000 people, constituting the prescribed amount allocated for reparations.

The compensation awarded is broken down into multiple categories. The largest portion, $225 million, is to be awarded for damage to persons, which includes death, displacement of civilians, and recruitment of child soldiers. The DRC will also receive $40 million for damage to property, and $60 million for damage to natural resources, which includes the plundering of gold, diamonds, and timber that occurred during the period of conflict. According to ICJ President John Joan Donoghue, “The court notes that the reparation awarded to the DRC for damage to persons and to property reflects the harm suffered by individuals and communities as a result of Uganda’s breach of its international obligations.” While this may at first seem to be a generous sum, it is well below what was initially requested by the DRC. The country believes that $11 billion is a more accurate valuation of the damages incurred by Uganda’s actions. As such, this ruling raises the question of whether this is a genuine attempt at reparations or the result of an issue that has been dragged out for so long that any amount, even less than enough, has become acceptable in the eyes of a decentralized international body like the UN. 

Uganda’s representatives called these demands “staggering”, saying that the request for $11 billion was “disproportionate and economically ruinous.” Further, Uganda’s Attorney General William Byaruhanga told the court that “it essentially seeks to make Uganda responsible for everything that happened in the conflict.” It is true that, at its peak, the conflict involved nine African countries in total including Rwanda who, alongside Uganda, backed rebel forces in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. This raises the question of whether or not other countries involved should be expected to follow Uganda in paying damages to the DRC. Per the UN ruling, it is believed that Uganda is to blame for a “significant part” of the damage and casualties because of their “wrongful international acts.” Consequently, for the time being, it seems that no more than $325 million will be allotted with the sole distributor of reparations being Uganda. This is especially likely given that the ICJ disallows appeals to any passed rulings. 

The conflict and ruling together reinforce the ICJ’s ability to handle complex cases of war travesties. However, the amount of time taken to address this situation is of some concern. In the coming years, we will see more clearly just how impactful the reparations will be for the DRC, as well as whether or not this ruling will set a precedent for how conflicts involving multiple parties are dealt with when it comes to prescribing blame and settling on financial awards. 

Jacob Margolis is from Towson, Maryland and is studying Political Science and History.


Russo-Ukrainian Crisis and Rising Oil Prices Threaten Climate Change

Global tensions, as well as oil prices, have soared to new heights following recent threats of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. While discussion surrounding the conflict has thus far been centered on implications to national security and foreign relations, the issue is also set to have major effects on climate change efforts that countries around the globe have been developing for years. 

The histories of Russia and Ukraine are deeply intertwined, and conflict between the two countries has existed for generations, from Ukraine’s entrance into the Soviet Union in 1922 to its independence in 1991. Since 1991, Russia has persistently refused to acknowledge Ukraine’s independence, as demonstrated by Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a series of Russian cyber attacks between 2016 and 2017. Russia also continues to maintain a military presence near Ukraine, currently stationing nearly 130,000 troops at the Ukrainian border. In December 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent the United States a list of security demands with the most notable being that NATO exclude Ukraine from NATO membership. Barring Ukraine from NATO is critical for Russia as a NATO membership guarantees that Ukraine would be well-supported by other countries in the case of an invasion or attack. However, NATO quickly rejected this demand. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared, “I can’t be more clear — NATO’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment.” 

Despite NATO’s ongoing commitment to reduce tensions and lead open dialogue with Russia, the risk of potential international conflict with Russia has driven a surge in oil prices over the past few days. Following a statement by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that the chances of a Russian invasion were mounting, oil prices reached a seven-year high of $94 per barrel. The climb in prices is only expected to continue; JP Morgan projects that prices could reach up to $120 per barrel if tensions persist. 

Why does the Russo-Ukrainian Crisis so strongly dictate the trend of oil prices? Russia is the world’s second leading producer of oil and natural gas, so rising tensions put the stability of oil supplies at risk. Any type of invasion or battle between Russia and Ukraine could impair energy infrastructure that exists in the area. Additionally, countries within NATO could attempt to force Russia out of Ukraine using sanctions that limit Russia’s energy exports. In turn, Russia itself could try to pressure NATO into compliance by raising the costs of its energy exports. This is not an unprecedented tactic; Saudi Arabia implemented a similar strategy in 1973 against countries supporting Israel. However, it is unclear how likely such a move by Russia would be as it would not only harm countries receiving the exports but also Russia’s own oil and gas revenue. Global fears of oil shortage are thus warranted and have caused oil prices to skyrocket. 

Beyond these more obvious political and economic implications of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis and the subsequent rise in oil prices, accelerating energy costs also jeopardize current international progress in terms of global warming. Countries are already struggling with limited oil and natural gas resources, and the global demand for coal has been on the rise, with a 6% increase of coal demand in 2021 alone. Spiking oil costs will only further incentivize the growth of coal-fired power generation which reached an all-time high last year. While new international commitments to phasing out coal — as laid out in the UN Glasgow Climate Pact — may help counteract this rise, environmentalists have already expressed skepticism over how strictly nations will enforce these agreements. Surging oil prices and coal demands might push countries to abandon their previous climate commitments.

Additionally, increasing oil prices has emboldened oil giants to pursue new, large drilling projects with potentially vast environmental damage. Exxon Mobil recently announced plans to increase projects up to 45% in 2022. These ambitious plans are made possible by the $23 billion in profits that the company brought in during 2021, which is their highest in seven years. At a time when the climate crisis demands a swift reduction in oil wells and drillings, new projects are a major step backwards. Climate activists have attempted to fight back by taking some oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron to court over the years. However, even if the production of large oil companies was somehow reduced, rising oil costs and demands would only encourage other companies to fill the places of these oil giants. Surging oil costs create a vicious cycle that greatly hinders effective climate action. 

Though the situation surrounding oil caused by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict looks bleak, there may be economic trends and behaviors that limit the potential environmental damage. High oil prices do lead to an immediate increased demand for oil, but they may eventually reduce demand as people are forced to shift their lifestyles to accommodate the high fluctuations and instability of oil. This kind of shift is already visible in the growing popularity of electric vehicles, which do not require gasoline. In 2021, Electric vehicles made up 20% of all new sales in Europe and 15% in China. The electric vehicle and green infrastructure industry show promising growth and may help limit the powers of the oil industry. Successful advancements in the green industry could alleviate some of the possible climate effects of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis and protect the climate from political and economic fluctuations. 

The Russo-Ukrainian Crisis demonstrates how interconnected climate action is with political and economic affairs. Even the potential invasion of a single country can result in sweeping spillover effects on climate change. With the welfare of the entire planet at stake, the Russo-Ukrainian Crisis is a truly global issue that can affect all countries. As the climate crisis drags on, global issues will likely have to be addressed not only from a traditional political and economic standpoint but also from an environmental one. 

Erin is from Baltimore, Maryland studying Environmental Science and Policy and English.


Number of Climate Litigation Suits Heats Up

As the climate crisis rapidly accelerates, legislative bodies around the globe have been under fire for their inaction. A growing multitude of frustrated individuals have turned their attention to the court system in search of new avenues for climate action. In the past three years alone, climate litigation suits doubled from 884 cases in 24 countries to 1,550 cases in 38 countries, revealing an exponential increase in public concerns for the environment as well as a rising dependence on the courts to kickstart government action on climate change. This influx of cases has pushed courts to confront and even rethink their judicial powers and duties in relation to climate action.

Large-scale court decisions on climate change have long been unprecedented because issues as vast as climate change typically warrant broad policy changes that are beyond the power of the courts. However, two recent climate suits in Europe have seen remarkable success due to an uncharacteristically strong exercise of authority from the courts. In Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, nearly 900 Dutch citizens sued their government for failing to protect them from climate change. Following a series of lower court rulings, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25%, as opposed to the government’s original plan to cut emissions by 14-17%. While the State initially denied responsibility, the court based its verdict on the fundamental duty of the Dutch State to protect its citizens from harm, arguing that a mere 17% reduction in emissions would be insufficient given the “large degree of consensus in the scientific and international community on the urgent need for developing countries to reduce GHG emissions.” The Dutch government has since responded by implementing a more robust climate action plan with 25% reduction of emissions and even shutting down a power plant four years earlier than planned. 

More recently in the 2020 case of Neubauer et al. v. Germany, a German constitutional court ruled that Germany’s 2019 Climate Protection Act which called for a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 lacked detailed provisions for reaching its emission reduction goals. The court further asserted that the current trajectory of emission reductions under the Climate Protection Act would leave behind significant amounts of greenhouse gas that would “impose disproportionately high losses of freedom on future generations.” Just three months after the court ruling, the German Parliament promptly amended the Climate Protection Act to include more detailed and proactive provisions. The amended act now requires Germany to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% instead of 55% and to reach greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045 rather than 2050.

The outcomes of these two climate suits were celebrated by environmentalists around the world and are set to have some major implications for future climate litigation. First, the authoritative rulings within the two cases reveal that it is possible for courts to exercise more power than is tradition to address climate change. In fact, a strong exercise of power from the courts in relation to climate change may even be preferable. The swift government action that followed both court rulings demonstrably showed that courts are not only an effective route for government climate action but also an incredibly efficient one. Additionally, while courts are typically responsible for redressing past injuries, the emphasis that the Dutch and German courts placed on implementing proactive climate measures to ensure the wellbeing of future generations demonstrates that court orders for climate change can be forward-facing. These kinds of forward-facing court decisions could pressure governments to lay out climate action plans that extend well into the future rather than leaving them up in the air for future generations to tackle.  

Despite the victories for environmentalists in the court cases in the Netherlands and Germany, their success may have a limited universal replication. The differences in government constitutions necessarily mean that not all countries’ courts can exercise the authoritative power shown in the two cases. The development of climate litigation has been particularly sluggish in the United States, especially with a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the climate case Juliana v. United States that the court was not responsible for mandating any climate action plans. The court reasoned that climate change requires broad policy reform that surpasses the limits of judicial power — a vastly different response from the courts of Urgenda Foundation v. State of Netherlands and Neubauer, et al. v. Germany. Proponents of Juliana v. United States have been quick to criticize the inflexible attitude of U.S. courts towards climate action when compared to the more creative and proactive measures taken by European courts. The reluctance of U.S. courts to lead climate action is certainly not unfounded since courts have not been traditional paths for climate action. However, an unprecedented deterioration of the environment may very well require these courts to follow their European counterparts in pursuing unprecedented measures to ensure the welfare of the current world and future generations.

With the climate crisis growing to new heights every year, it has become increasingly evident that there is no single path to success. Legislative action — arguably the main source of climate action today — has proven to be slow and grueling, especially in times of polarized politics. The success of both Urgenda Foundation v. State of Netherlands and Neubauer, et al. v. Germany suggests that court systems will have to shoulder some of the government’s climate duties in order for the world to keep up with worsening conditions. 

Erin is from Baltimore, Maryland studying Environmental Science and Policy and English.


New Ban on Imports from Xinjiang; U.S. Reaffirms their Stance on Uyghur Forced Labor

In recent years, many reports have emerged that accuse China of repressing Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority. Earlier in 2021, the U.S. State Department estimated that possibly up to 2 million Uyghurs were being held in detainment centers in the country’s western region of Xinjiang. Former detainees have reported that while in the camps, they were “subjected to intense political indoctrination, forced labor, torture, and even sexual abuse.” Subsequently, in March of 2021, the U.S. put pressure on China through sanctions on various officials over human rights violations, a move that was followed by the European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Now, almost a year later, U.S. legislation has been passed that will, effective immediately, ban imports from the Xinjiang region, citing the many previously mentioned human rights abuses. 

The Act serves four main functions:

  • An enforcement strategy that will generate lists of products and materials from Xinjiang for U.S. companies to keep out of their supply chains
  • A presumption that any product produced in Xinjiang or passing through Xinjiang at some point in the supply chain is barred from import, unless it can be proven that such a product was not produced via forced labor
  • A diplomatic strategy that will generate a list of entities in China or affiliates that have benefitted from forced labor or acted as agents in importing these goods to the U.S.
  • Sanctions that the president may place on any foreign individual identified to have been involved in forced labor in Xinjiang. 

It has been said that the Act will impact the supply chains of “many multinational employers… because raw materials from this region… have found their way into many global supply chains.” As such, this move does not only affect the U.S., but also the many intermediaries that operate throughout this exchange process such as Vietnam, a country that manufactures U.S.-bound textiles using cotton imported from Xinjiang. 

In response to the legislation, China’s government denounced it as a “violation of international law.” According to foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, the act “maliciously denigrates the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang in disregard of facts and truth.” Zhao further announced, “China deplores and firmly rejects this.” This response is in line with past rebuttals to accusations about these human rights violations. Many countries, including the U.S., have gone further by stating that China has been committing genocide in their Xinjiang detainment camps. According to the U.N.’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the term refers to “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” The fact that such atrocities may still be in effect and the perpetrators are yet to be held accountable is a situation of major concern not just for international buyers but also for humanitarian organizations worldwide. 

Equally problematic is the threat posed to those who speak out against repressive activities in Xinjiang. Back in March of 2021, BBC reporters conversed with 22 people who had fled the region, all of whom described “a pattern of threats, harassment, and public character attacks they said were designed to deter them from speaking out about alleged human rights abuses back home.” Between this and the tightly secured surveillance state within China and within Xinjiang especially, it has been a challenge for foreign powers and human rights organizations to appropriately investigate the situation. Moving forward, it is possible that this Act will be emulated by other countries wishing to crack down on forced labor. Canada, for example, has recently started to seize goods, from Chinese importers, that were found to have been produced via forced labor. Currently, there has been debate about whether or not the U.S. approach, in which sellers must present proof that their supply chain was in no way connected to Xinjiang, is worth following. The U.K. is seeking to make changes to their international accountability standards as well. They have stated that they are seeking to amend their Modern Slavery Act 2015. With these actions, it is hoped that an economic strain on Xinjiang’s international network strong enough to alleviate these human rights violations may arise. Until such a goal is achieved, however, the U.S. and other foreign powers are expected to continue their pressure on China through such transnational economic means.

Jacob Margolis is from Towson, Maryland and is studying Political Science and History.

Emmanuel Macron in Les Mureaux

Is The French Secularist Tradition Compatible With A Globalized France?

The French Republic is built according to three major values: liberté, égalité, fraternité—liberty, equality, fraternity—that inform the commitments of the state codified in the French Constitution. Among these commitments is the French secularist tradition termed laïcité. However, recent legal developments have called into question whether France’s secularist tradition remains effective in promoting liberty, equality, and fraternity in a country that has become increasingly globalized. On Aug. 24, 2021, France’s Constitutional Council passed the law “reinforcing the respect of the principles of the republic,” more popularly known as the law against separatism—referring to the rise of identity groups separate from the French state, commonly associated with “religious, territorial, or racial minorities in France.” This bill, first introduced after various Islamist-drivent attacks in October 2020, grants the state more power over independent organization, including greater fiscal and administrative control over cultural associations. It ultimately extends the state’s enforcement of its Republican values from civil servants and public organizations to any private organization seeking public funds. This increased control by the state also reaches into the education system, strictly limiting home-schooling and facilitating the closure of schools that encourage separatist movements—most notably Islamic private schools. Although the bill itself does not explicitly mention “Islam” or “Muslim,” its reforms have been accused of disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, a claim supported by Macron’s description of the bill as a means to tackle Islamist Separatism.

In order to understand France’s secularist legislation and its relationship to French Republican values, it is necessary to understand the context under which they originated. The French secularist tradition stems from a history of religion as a dividing force. The 1572 Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy and 1984 Affaire Dreyfus are taught in French schools as tragedies born from religious divides. These events inspired the first secularist legislation: the Separation of Church and State Law of 1905. France’s secular inclination was further solidified following World War II. Under Nazism, the obligation of Jews in France to wear the Star of David exemplified the oppression enabled by the disclosure of religious observance to the state. As a result of historical events, the French state has committed to maintaining religion, among other identifying factors such as race and ethnicity, private; the government is prohibited from asking citizens to disclose personal identity traits in censuses. These measures are taken to protect citizens’ liberty and equality by preventing the state from influencing the convictions of citizens, or discriminating against them on the basis of these convictions in accordance with the first article of the constitution: all citizens must be viewed strictly as equals in the public sphere with no distinctions made according to origin, race, or religion. 

However, French secularist legislation has become a source of controversy. Balancing the values of the French republic and the implications of their secularist laws gives rise to challenges for the French model. In an age of increasing globalization, a system whose laws are justified within a very narrow and rigid code opens itself up to great misinterpretation and marginalization of groups. Since World War II, France has seen a massive influx of immigrants, particularly from the Middle East and the African Maghreb region; France’s immigrant population has grown from 6% of the total population in 1945 to 10.2% in 2020. Thus, the values that originated in a much more demographically uniform France, are starting to crack under the pressure of a diverse population. Upholding equality, liberty, and fraternity has become challenging with different groups observing various traditions, religions, and cultures. For example, France’s 2004 bill banning conspicuous religious symbols in school, intended to preserve equality and fraternity, has been criticized as limiting the liberty of expression of young Muslim hijab wearers. Even small-scale decisions to accommodate Halal or Kosher eating preferences in school canteens have generated controversy as they could be viewed as promoting separations between students due to religious differences. The Aug. 24 law is no different. 

By raising the stakes on secularist practices, certain Muslim populations have felt particularly targeted. Since the introduction of the bill, Islamic leaders have called out its Islamophobic tendency, signing an open letter against the charter in February. Even more worrying is the possibility that the bill is actually counterproductive in its anti-separatism goal. Critics have highlighted that by “validating the radicalised narrative that France is the enemy of Islam,” the French law could generate anger and increase radicalization among Islamic groups who feel targeted by the reforms. Studies have found that French Muslims generally exhibit great trust in the French Republic—including adherence to Republican values—but this trust is diminished by experiences of discrimination. Further, researchers have shown that the closing of mosques, facilitated by this bill, would not be successful in addressing “Islamic Separatism” as claimed by President Macron. Taking into account these critiques, the anger, and potential danger, surrounding France’s newest anti-separatism law becomes largely justified. By disproportionately affecting France’s Muslim population with reforms that are likely to fail in mitigating separatism, it is difficult to conclude that this law successfully promotes equality, liberty, and fraternity. 

The controversies that have emerged from France’s “secularist” legislation in recent years highlight the fragility of the French values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It is evident that promoting these values has become increasingly difficult due to the evolving identity of France’s population. Ensuring equality, liberty, and fraternity may have supported a strong state provisional of unparalleled freedoms to its citizens when the French population was smaller, mostly homogeneous, and subscribed to similar religious practices. However, the reality today is a very different one, and recent attempts at promoting these values have proven counterproductive, prioritizing certain portions of the population over others. With a continuously growing immigrant population and booming globalization, will the traditional French system continue to prevail, or will its values fail to keep up with the changing reality? 

Belén Bricchi is from Buenos Aires, Argentina and is studying Public Policy, Political Economy, and French.

Cambodia Ream naval base

H.R.4686: US Sanctions on Cambodian Military Officials

On Sept. 28, 2021, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R.4686, The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2021. This bill requires that the president impose sanctions on Cambodian individuals who commit acts that directly undermine democracy. While the bill has yet to be passed by the Senate, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control were able to impose the sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which gives the department the right to sanction individuals and entities accused of human rights violations which would include, as in this case, corruption. Such violations that the legislation describes are in reference to attempts at collusion by members of the Cambodian Ministry of National Defense, Chau Phirun and Tea Vinh. These military officials, who have most recently been stationed at the Chinese-Cambodian Ream Naval Base, allegedly inflated the costs for new construction on facilities at the base and then proceeded to skim the excess funding for themselves. The U.S. has frequently used the base as a military training facility alongside Cambodian soldiers and hence feel obligated to involve themselves in the situation. The imposed sanctions have been accompanied by a corruption advisory to U.S. businesses and a blacklisting of the two officials. Additionally, all U.S. assets belonging to these individuals have been frozen. 

Despite the severity of this case, the United States has perceived this situation as only a scratch at the surface of an underlying system of corruption within the Southeast Asian country. Cambodian government officials, however, have stated their disapproval with the U.S. decision, terming this a “politically motivated” act. U.S. concern with the base comes, in part, from reports in 2019 stating that Beijing had secretly signed an agreement allowing its armed forces to exclusively use parts of the base. Cambodian spokesman Phay Siphan believes that this direct involvement on the behalf of the Chinese government is why such a drastic decision was made: “The sanctions imposed by the U.S. government were made unilaterally and their decision was not based on the rule of law — it is an injustice for Cambodia.” 

Politically motivated or not, the U.S. has additional beliefs about deeply rooted corruption within Cambodia notwithstanding Chinese military involvement. According to U.S. embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier, “U.S. officials have regularly raised concerns with Cambodia’s officials about systemic corruption, transnational organized crime and human rights abuses.” It is unclear, however, whether U.S. sanctions were necessary. The bill, which was originally proposed by representative Steve Chabot, was intended “to promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights.” The currently ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been electorally dominant over the past five years, carrying out measures such as banning the country’s main opposition party, suppressing many forms of independent press, and arresting anyone, including ordinary citizens, for dissenting views on the current government. It is mainly for this reason that U.S. officials, running a democratic country themselves, feel obligated to intervene in a situation where democratic rights are being denied. Still, it is hard to say how much of these sanctions are a result of attempts to uphold democratic values, and how much they are a reaction coming from deeply ingrained fears about Chinese involvement in military projects. 

It is clear that from a geopolitical standpoint this situation has escalated the existing tension in U.S.-China foreign relations. From a financial standpoint, we will see in the coming months what types of changes will be made to future budget decisions for the Ream Naval Base, and whether the Cambodian military officials will face any recoil within the Cambodian judicial system. As for Chinese-Cambodian relations, much change is not expected. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin went so far as to state, “China consistently opposes unilateral sanctions by the U.S. under so-called long-arm jurisdiction… The mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Cambodia brooks no external interference.”  Past events and international relations along with the close proximity of the two countries tell us that they will likely work together when it comes to issues that pertain to Southeast Asia. The long-term impact of the sanctions will become clearer if the U.S. and Cambodia ever run into similar crises in the future. Such instances will tell us whether the sanctions were a rare occurrence, or whether they will be a precedent for U.S. foreign affairs’ handling of international corruption. 

Jacob Margolis is from Towson, Maryland and is studying Political Science and History.


COP26 Recap: Renewed Urgency, But Will It Be Enough?

The COP26 UN Climate Summit that was scheduled from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 ran into overtime and officially ended on Nov. 13 with approximately 200 countries agreeing to an 11-page Glasgow Climate Pact that has been met with both celebration and criticism from around the world.

Some of the most highly-praised commitments to come out of the summit were led by ambitious agreements on deforestation, methane, and carbon markets. More than 100 countries, notably the U.S. Brazil, China, and Russia, agreed to end deforestation by 2030. A similar commitment was made for methane emissions with more than 100 countries vowing to cut methane emissions by 30% in the next 10 years. New rules for the carbon market struck a particularly positive note for climate activists internationally. These rules aim to close loopholes in the carbon market by eliminating double counting of carbon emissions and thus keeping countries more strictly accountable for their emission claims. 

The Glasgow Summit has been a place of many firsts even beyond these main commitments. In declaring a goal of “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” the Glasgow Climate Pact marks the first time that fossil fuels are explicitly written into a UN climate declaration. Additionally, in a surprising twist for many countries, two of the biggest global polluters the U.S. and China — jointly announced that they would be doing more to reduce emissions, with China developing plans to reduce methane for the first time in the nation’s history.

While there is certainly plenty to celebrate within these accomplishments, the climate summit fell short in other issues. One especially notable shortcoming is the issue of high-income countries providing funding to low-income countries to develop renewables and become more resilient to climate change. At the 2009 Copenhagen summit, wealthy nations had agreed to pay $100 billion USD per year to low-income nations by 2020 to better equip them to combat climate change. These nations did not follow through on their commitment, and arguments surrounding funding were renewed at the Glasgow summit. The new Glasgow Climate Pact “urges” countries to at least double this funding for low-income nations by 2025. However, there is lingering doubt as to how successfully this will be implemented when countries have already failed to meet their 2009 commitments.

Another issue involving funding for vulnerable nations, known as “Loss and Damage,” was a major point of contention at the summit. “Loss and Damage” is a compensation system for nations dealing with destruction from emissions released by other countries. The context for “Loss and Damage” is that more-developed countries should be held responsible for their contributions to climate change which disproportionately affects less-developed countries. The U.S. and EU generated 47% of total global greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, Africa and South America generated just 6% but will be most affected by climate change. This system of climate justice was met with fierce opposition by the U.S. and EU, which prevented countries from reaching an agreement. Instead, they settled for a “Glasgow Dialogue” to continue working on funding plans in future years. This is not the first time a climate summit has established “Dialogue” rather than direct actions. The COP23 in 2017 created the “Suva Expert Dialogue” to research loss and damage, yet the system has still failed to be implemented. Various countries view the “Glasgow Dialogue” as proof of wealthy nations shirking from their responsibilities, with Guinea showing “extreme disappointment” and Senior Advisor Harjeet Singh at the Climate Action Network criticizing the plan as “walking in inches when we must move in miles.”  

Climate activists and world leaders also expressed concern over the weak wording of the various commitments laid out in the Glasgow Pact. An initial draft of the pact called for a “phasing-out” of coal. However, India pushed to replace this phrase with  “phasing-down,” a last minute move also supported by China. Leaders including the Tuvalu Foreign Minister and Mexico’s envoy Camila Isabel Lizama denounced this “watered-down” commitment that reduces pressure for countries to eliminate coal. The pact also “urges” and “requests” wealthy nations to increase funding for low-income countries. Activists worry that such soft words will not prompt sufficient action. Professor Timmons Roberts at Brown University was doubtful over the effectiveness of the pact’s “wiggle words,” saying, “If I request my students to consider doing the reading for a class, how many do I expect to actually do it? Very few.”

Beyond all the praise and doubt surrounding the Glasgow Climate Summit, a looming question remains: what do these commitments and lack of commitments mean for the world and climate change? The 2015 Paris Agreement established a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and there has been much debate over whether this goal is still within reach. Varying projections have been calculated, but the Climate Change Tracker predicts a 2.1 degree increase if long-term climate and net-zero targets are successfully met. The tracker’s most optimistic scenario is 1.8 degrees, which can only be accomplished with over 140 countries reaching their net-zero targets. 

Despite these somber projections, some leaders hold onto hope of reaching 1.5 degrees. Following the Glasgow Summit, COP26 President Alok Sharma said, “We have kept 1.5 degrees within reach, but its pulse is weak.” To be fair, all the commitments and action plans made in verbal and written form over the years could, in theory, keep global warming below 2.0 degrees if they are implemented quickly and successfully. However, the commitments themselves are long overdue, and actions towards fulfilling these commitments do not seem to come quickly enough. 

Erin is from Baltimore, Maryland studying Environmental Science and Policy and English.

Lithuania and Belarus: New Policy Surrounding Iraqi Immigrant Crisis

Lithuania has seen a recent influx of Iraqi immigrants. Just south of the country lies Belarus where many of these migrants have been coming from. In normal years, Lithuania catches about 70 “unlawful” migrants in total from this country. Due to recent tension between the European Union (EU) and Belarus, however, those numbers have increased to over 470 people in June of this year and 2,600 in July.

On May 23, 2021, Belarus “sparked uproar” as they forced an EU passenger jet to land in Minsk, the country’s capital, where they then proceeded to abduct a “high-profile dissident passenger.” In response to this act of air piracy, the EU imposed sanctions on the country, attempting to prevent future crises from arising. Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenko has retaliated by facilitating illegal migration which Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has called a “state-sponsored weapon.” Allegedly, Lukashenko threatened to allow human traffickers and drug smugglers to flow out of the country and into the rest of Europe. Additionally, EU officials have reported evidence of the government encouraging immigrants to travel specifically to Lithuania. There is alleged coordination between the government and a Belarusian travel agency to offer tourist visas as well as setting up flights and other means of transportation to get Iraqi immigrants to the Lithuanian border.

However, Belarus is not the only country going against international convention in this conflict. The Lithuanian government announced that they reserve the right to use force to stop illegal immigration. On that same day, they turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. Program director of Lithuania’s Red Cross told AP, “Pushbacks of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status.” Extensive video footage has, as well, surfaced of  Lithuanian forces erecting barbed wire fence to make illegal immigration more challenging.

The Lithuanian Parliament further restricted immigration by passing a new law that will fast-track the asylum process and allow authorities to detain migrants for as long as six months without a court order. Critics against this legislation are saying that not only could it violate human rights laws, but it also may violate the country’s constitution. Nevertheless, Lithuanian policymakers are pushing forward, stating that it is the only way to deal with such a large influx of migrants.

So far, there has been little response from the EU regarding plans to mitigate this crisis. This conflict clearly raises concerns not only for the countries involved but especially for the EU as a whole. It raises questions on how the EU should handle such issues and go about enacting effective, coherent migration and asylum policy as a union established with the idea of free borders. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis traveled to Baghdad in mid-July as part of a diplomatic effort with EU officials to curb migration or, at the very least, reduce the number of Iraqi migrants to a more manageable level. Negotiators have stated publicly that those talks are “going well,” but no other information has been shared. 

One can expect to see continued disagreement between Belarus and Lithuania. The Lukashenko regime’s hostility towards the EU poses a major threat to not only this situation but for future crises as well. It remains unclear whether EU policy will be effective at keeping Belarus in check. As for Lithuania, their mobilization efforts have not been enough to handle a refugee crisis at this scale, and much of their legislative actions have focused on short-term processing and removal of asylum-seekers. The best hope for these Iraqi immigrants would be quick and swift decision-making on the part of the EU, aid for the immigrants from other nations, or a diversion of resources to both Lithuania and Belarus to aid in the process of finding placement for the refugees that are currently stuck there. The prospects of the diplomatic efforts by Landsbergis and other EU officials with decision-makers in Baghdad are hopeful, but the actual result of their diplomacy will be seen in the upcoming months.

Jacob Margolis is from Towson, Maryland and is studying Political Science and History.