Screen Shot 2021-03-07 at 4.12.48 PM

Hate Thy Neighbor: How Ethiopia’s Federal Government Is Committing Potential War Crimes Against Its People

Little was initially known on November 4, when Ethiopian federal forces invaded their own region, as the events were transpiring. The country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shut off internet access to the people of Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia along the border of Eritrea, and cut off their communication with the outside world as his troops engaged in conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F), the region’s ruling faction. The intelligence that has come to light three months after the conflict began provides damning details about the suffering endured both by the residents of Tigray and by the swathes of Eritrean refugees present in the region. Horrifying as may be Ethiopia’s incursion against the people of Tigray, especially shocking is that the nation’s leaders invited Eritrean military forces to join them in the oppression of its own citizens.

The seeds for Ethiopia’s invasion of the Tigray region were planted when Prime Minister Abiy began his term in 2018. Upon assuming office, he garnered acclaim with lofty promises of healing Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and earned a positive international reputation for his progress towards peace with his neighbors. After he put an end to rule by the T.P.L.F., Abiy received praise for working to terminate Ethiopia’s three-decade-long conflict with Eritrea, a feat which won him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. However, his purging of the federal government of Tigrayan officials and hostility towards the region reflected an uglier side to the administration’s policies. Although Abiy portrayed himself as a unifying figure for the various ethnic groups in Ethiopia, his show of force against Tigrayan officials enraged people in the region and fueled the T.P.L.F., which amassed a force of up to 250,000 soldiers. Tensions reached a boiling point on November 4 that culminated in an incursion into Tigray by federal forces, which the Abiy administration claimed was a response to a T.P.L.F. attack on a federal base in the region. 

Although the Ethiopian federal government promised its military presence in Tigray would result in no bloodshed, witness accounts have portrayed a humanitarian crisis that has left thousands of people dead, millions displaced, and even more in desperate need of resources like food and water. Especially daunting is the account of a deacon at Axum’s famous Church of St. Mary of Zion, where locals believe that the famed Ark of the Covenant resides. Soldiers defiled the holy city of Axum with an atrocious massacre of the local population on November 28. The deacon estimated that hundreds were killed in a raid on the church and its surrounding area and that the situation was even more dire outside of the city proper. One witness claimed that the soldiers “started to kill people who were moving from church to home or home to home, simply because they were on the street.” Soldiers also engaged in “plunder, punishment, and bloodshed in refugee camps in the region, where another witness described that they “beat refugees, tied their hands, and left them under the sun all day,” before “they poured milk on their bodies so they would be swarmed with flies.” 

In spite of the aforementioned accounts of murdered Ethiopian citizens, the destruction of Tigray’s infrastructure, theft of its resources, and abuse of refugees fleeing a dictatorial regime in Eritrea, Prime Minister Abiy denied that Eritrean troops entered Ethiopian territory, in a forceful repudiation of the claims of the U.N. and unaffiliated aid organizations. Tigrayan witnesses noted that the invading soldiers spoke with Eritrean accents. There are reports that several goods stolen from Tigray appeared in markets in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city. Notably, Eritrean’s President Isaias Afwerki also denied his country’s military presence in Ethiopia, referring to the AP’s account as outrageous lies.” The seeming collaboration of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments so soon after the end of their war in 2018 raises questions about the nature of their peace. Both Abiy and Isaias expressed grievances with the T.P.L.F, as the organization has been a political rival to the former and the latter fought against the T.P.L.F. Ethiopian government following Eritrea’s independence. The recent peace with Eritrea and the harrowing memories of a long conflict between the two countries that resulted in roughly 100,000 deaths remain fresh in the minds of the Tigrayan people.

The dire consequences of the Eritrean incursion have led Tigray to a point on the brink of a humanitarian crisis according to aid groups. Many of the 96,000 Eritrean refugees fleeing the oppressive military service system instated by Isaias were temporarily settled in Tigray before being forced to flee the region. Several of those who got caught behind were forced by soldiers to return to Eritrea. In what can only be construed as an attempt to deprive the region of crucial resources, aid workers described how Eritrean soldiers “looted aid supplies, stole vehicles, and set fire to fields filled with corps and a nearby forested area used by refugees to collect wood.” According to the Ethiopian Red Cross, thousands of people are at risk of starvation if humanitarian aid organizations are not able to reach them with critical supplies. Furthermore, the U.N. and local officials have stated that roughly 4.5 million people—nearly the entirety of Tigray’s population—are in urgent need of assistance. Tigray’s people are suffering, yet their Prime Minister has decided to side with their oppressors.

Although information from the Tigray region has been scarce since the conflict arose last year, available information shocked the international community and drew strong statements of condemnation. The Trump administration demanded that Eritrean troops leave Tigray in a January statement, citing the accusations of “widespread looting, killings, and other potential war crimes.” The Biden administration has also issued a forceful condemnation of the abuses in Tigray. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the United States “We strongly condemn[s] the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray,” demonstrating that this issue is unlikely to fade without critical examination by the global community. In a rare rebuke of Prime Minister Abiy, a recent honoree, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee stated that it “follows the developments in Ethiopia closely, and is deeply concerned.” 

As the world awaits more information about the atrocities in Tigray, the U.N. and several countries have speculated about possible criminal charges against those involved. Michelle Bachellet, the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner, has called for an investigation into human rights abuses in Tigray in light of the numerous accusation made against forces in the region, stating that “credible information also continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray in November last year.” Her office further added that “serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict,” further indicating that the U.N. is taking the Tigray conflict seriously and may go forward with charges against various officials. Article 8, Section 2 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court highlights crimes such as “wilful killing,” “unlawful deportation,” and “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population,” among several other crimes, as “war crimes” that can be prosecuted by the Hague. Accounts of these abuses and so many more under the broad umbrella of war crimes have been corroborated by U.N. officials from the accounts of witnesses, suggesting that the U.N. might have a strong case against those responsible for the massacres in Tigray. That said, it is unclear whether Abiy and Isaias face consequences for their parts in the Tigray invasion. However, this horrific episode has certainly damaged Ethiopia’s reputation as a model for progress and stability in an otherwise turbulent region.

Jacob Rosenzweig is from New York, New York studying History and Classics.

Screen Shot 2021-03-05 at 1.51.51 PM

Canary in a Coal Mine: Germany’s Democratic Warning Mechanism

Over the past five years, a resurgence of far-right rhetoric in the United States and Europe has altered the political landscape in the self-proclaimed Western world. Internet activity, especially on platforms such as Facebook, has encouraged echo chambers, leading many further right, extremizing views and encouraging political action.

One such party, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) was formed in 2013 by Alexander Gauland as a Eurosceptic movement rejecting liberalism. For its first round of election, the party failed to find enough support to unseat any existing members of the German parliament.

The AfD found it’s gold mind of support after the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel,’s 2015 decision to allow over one million undocumented refugees from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to enter into Germany. It quickly transitioned into an anti-Islamic party, one that trivialized the Holocaust and found a base in reviling immigrants. Capitalizing on the influx of refugees as a source of political strife, the AfD found its niche. Accusing Merkel of breaking the law, they worked to stage marches against the “Islamisation of the West.” 

Paired with online efforts, aided by Harris Media, a Texan political strategy company, the AfD cast themselves as victims of the establishment and of the mass media, and members of the party employed rhetoric to grant them a win for their base, the “true” Germans in their words. The AfD first entered the Bundestag, or German Parliament, in 2017, marking the first time since the Second World War that a party with this level of xenophobia has entered the German legislature. 

Since the legitimization of the AfD as a party with political power, Germany has witnessed a surge in hate crimes against racial and religious minorities that the AfD vilifies. In 2018, there was specifically a rise in anti-Semitic crime. Deep-rooted in European history, anti-semitism takes but a little spark to ignite again; the AfD was this spark. Their casual treatment of the Holocaust, as just a “speck of poop” in Germany’s long history encouraged their supporters to go after the Jewish population in Europe. The largest portion of hate crimes, though, was against Muslims, who make up 4.7 million of Germany’s population. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of people injured in Islamaphobic attacks surged 40%. The AfD now being a part of the government has led to victims being scared to report attacks to the police, because of the government connection. On the legal side, Germany has been tightening their hate speech laws recently, even extending their jurisdiction to online platforms. On a base level, Germany has banned Holocaust denial and Nazi symbols for years, provisions that often clash with freedom of speech ideals. The rise in crimes and hate speech, however, with the government essentially a part of the problem threatens the very fabric of German democracy.

In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany using democratic means. It was only once he had that power that he shed the curtain of democracy. As a safeguard against repeating history, the country deliberately designed its postwar institutions to prevent the rise of political forces capable of usurpation. One of those measures is the domestic intelligence agency, or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). While it may sound like the campaign promise of a future dictator, the office actually exists to be a Constitutional canary in a coal mine, primed to act as a warning mechanism for budding threats.

One of the more modern privileges of the intelligence agency is surveillance classifications. In the 1950s, a successor Nazi Party was banned by the Court and the Communist Party of Germany had been put under observation by the agency. More recently, the Neo-Nazi party and members of the far-left Left party have come under suspicion. In late February, the domestic intelligence agency stepped up the surveillance of AfD for suspected extremist links. This move, while not publicly announced by BfV due to ongoing legal battles with the AfD, was leaked to the press and decried by AfD officials. 

Of course, the AfD is no stranger to being monitored by the BfV. Its youth wing and some regional branches have been subject to surveillance for over two years. The youth wing has often been compared to Hitler Youth, a banned group in Germany in the wake of the Second World War; the BfV rightfully assumed it merited surveillance. These previous surveillance moves have led to a myriad of ongoing legal proceedings, in which the AfD argues that the surveillance is unlawful. Though unresolved, their legal battles have done little to better their political standing.

The uptick in surveillance occurs in the backdrop of one of the most important elections in modern German history. After 15 years in office, Angela Merkel is stepping down as Chancellor, making way for a new government to form. In addition, this is a super election year, or a superwahljahr, as there are a series of state elections before federal elections take place this September. State elections in Germany usually offer a solid indicator on regional party allegiances.

The AfD is in a political position where it can’t quite afford the hit in the press that this surveillance will bring. AfD’s support has plummeted since the beginning of the pandemic, transforming them from the third largest political party in Germany, to one polling at around 9%. With the centrist government byMerkel actively, and effectively, confronting the pandemic, support for that coalition rose, at the cost of support for the AfD. The largest detractor to their support was their flip flopping position on the government’s handling of the pandemic. Initially pro-Merkel’s policies, they now call the Covid protocols a corona dictatorship that attacks the basic rights of Germans. The loss of unity has cost the AfD much of their base.

Ultimately, the surveillance move, while legal, is heavily controversial. Weeks out from state elections, the news, though not confirmed by the BfV, puts the AfD in an even more precarious political position. One of the party’s main outcries is the move is largely election motivated, a ploy by the government to shame the name of the AfD. THe BfV, however, legally must remain apartisan. The AfD is simply shouting into a vacuum of its supporters, hoping to reignite the anti-migrant flame.

Shreya Joshi is from Houston, Texas and is studying International Comparative Studies.

 

Screen Shot 2021-03-05 at 10.10.51 AM

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy Found Guilty Of Corruption

On March 1st, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years on charges of corruption and influence peddling. Sarkozy was president of France from 2007 to 2012. 

Uncovered during a campaign finance investigation against him, Sarkozy was accused of attempting to illegally peddle information from a magistrate Gilbert Azibert by offering the magistrate a prestigious position in Monaco over a phone call. Though Azibert never received the position, the nature of the conversations being a clearly stated promise places it under France’s strict corruption laws, which are suggested to be the blueprint for EU-wide corruption policies.. Magistrate Gilbert Azibert was also found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison. At the time of the accusation, Sarkozy was already being investigated over claims that he received illegal payments from the cosmetics company L’Oréal’s heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign. The prosecution states that Sarkozy attempted to hide his activities by using false names and unofficial phone lines. 

 Of Sarkozy’s three-year sentence, two years are suspended because. Currently, Sarkozy has filed an appeal which delays the sentence. Additionally, he may be able to avoid spending time in prison by serving his sentence under house arrest with an electronic bracelet, which is allowed under French law for sentences under two years. His suspended sentence can be waived if he does not commit any offense in the next five years. He has denied any wrongdoing and will appeal. 

Police wiretaps revealed conversations among the relevant parties regarding corruption. Sarkozy and his legal team objected to these wiretaps, claiming that they infringe on attorney-client privilege. However, in 2015, French courts ruled the wiretaps to be legal as they help provide evidence of corruption-related offenses. 

 Sarkozy’s appeal is likely to revolve on the issue surrounding the legality of the wiretaps. His team can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on this issue. If he is able to win the argument over the wiretaps’ legality, his appeal is likely to succeed as the allegations are centered around the evidence obtained from the police wiretaps. Sarkozy also has the option to appeal to France’s highest court, the Court of Cassation. 

However, Sarkozy’s legal troubles will not end after the appeal of this trial. Soon, on March 17, he will be tried over finance issues from his 2012 presidential campaign. This case accuses him and his party of hiding 42.8 million euros in campaign spending, which is almost twice the limit allowed. He is also charged with allegations of his 2007 presidential campaign receiving financing from Libya

 This case has brought the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) into a fierce national debate. The national prosecutor Jean -François Bohnert publicly stated, “This trial, like any trial, is neither an institutional revenge, nor that of the judiciary, nor that and even less of the PNF… No one here seeks revenge on a former President of the Republic.” However, much of France disagrees. The creation of the PNF in 2013 sparked much controversy. Multiple politicians on the right called for its abolition, accusing the PNF of political bias. Previously in 2017, the PNF was accused of bias when investigating frontrunner presidential candidate François Fillon’s wife in a fake jobs scandal. This investigation is largely credited to eliminating the conservative candidate from the first round of the presidential election. 

Still an influential and popular figure among the conservative Les Republicains party, there previously were expectations that Sarkozy would run again for the 2022 presidential election after President Emmanuel Macron’s term ends. Though the conviction does not prevent him from running, it makes it extremely unlikely to happen. Though Sarkozy may win his appeal, which would take months, more lawsuits are impending. Even if he won all the cases charged against him, his public image has been tarnished. He joins his predecessor President Jacques Chirac, also guilty of corruption, as the second French president to be sentenced in the last decade.  

Hyonjun Yun is from Seoul, South Korea, and is studying Political Science and Environmental Sciences and Policy.

 

pasted image 0

Venezeula’s Political Crisis: How Their Consitution Became a Farce

For the past two decades, the socialist party PSVU has run the Venezuelan government. Initially controlling only the executive branch, the PSUV consolidated control of the judiciary, electoral council, and now the legislative body. Since the transition from the Chávez regime to Nicolás Maduro’s government, the Venezuelan economy has collapsed and prompted an exodus, largely into Colombia. A prime example of a decaying petrostate, Venezuela has fallen prey to “Dutch disease”, when a government is heavily dependent on natural resource exports, oil and fossil fuels in this case and there is little funding to other sectors. Additionally, power is concentrated in the hands of a few, and corruption is rampant in every level of the political and economic structure. The economic collapse under Maduro is due to the decrease in the outflow of oil, leaving the country with little income.

With hyperinflation skyrocketing and many Venezuelans worried about putting food on the table, it was doubtful that Maduro would win his re-election bid. Maduro was only able to even hold an election because he created a parallel National Assembly–he had no control over the legitimate one, which was run by the opposition. The election was rigged from its very inception. Opposition candidates were barred from running, or jailed, or fled the country, and the opposition parties themselves boycotted the polls. Seemingly counterintuitive, the boycott was a protest of the unfair election. The opposition wasn’t going to win even if they voted, so they made a stand by not voting. Far from democratic, free, or fair, the fraudulent elections secured Maduro’s second six-year term in May 2018. Maduro was sworn in for his second term in the beginning of January 2019. Even so, the opposition never recognized his re-election, and by extension, neither did the legislative body. Within a few weeks, the opposition moved its queen.

On January 23, 2019, Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition controlled National Assembly, the legislative body in Venezuela, declared himself acting president. The National Assembly considered the presidency vacant because of the usurped election, and found constitutional justification to put Guaidó in the seat. The declaration initially sparked a level of excitement and nearly a year of protests.

The international community chimed in, with almost fifty countries publishing official statements in support of Guaidó, the US, European nations, and Colombia to name a few. Conversely, Russia and China in particular demonstrated their support for Maduro. The stage was set for an international conflict, especially with President Trump placing all options on the table, including military involvement. Even so, no one was willing to move their pawns.  Colombia, heavily affected by the refugee exodus, was willing to be a conduit for aid movement and transportation. Guaido’s movement began ensuring the movement of aid from the border into Venezuela, aided heavily by the $52 million America provided. 

Expectedly, Maduro’s response was, to say the least, unfriendly. He already had the security services and military on his side, and the National Assembly had long been rendered relatively powerless. Years before, Maduro created another National Assembly, a parallel, constitutionally unrecognized legislature that he relied on. The opposition controlled National Assembly was viewed as powerless, and as a result, it was. Guaidó attempted many times to engineer a coup in the military, but their allegiance lay solely with Maduro. He’s ensured military leadership is cared for; they had and have no reason to leave his side. 

Since then, the movement has been rather standstill. Guaidó embarked on an international tour in early 2020, meeting world leaders, but it bore little fruit for his movement. It occasionally pops in the news, but Maduro has held onto power, and Guaidó has been left in a rather awkward position, declaring himself President but having little to show politically. Constitutionally, he retains the right to be the de jure leader since he used Articles 293, 296 and 233 to legally draw his path to interim President. Maduro simply ignored him by deferring to his parallel National Assembly, which never disputed his farce of a re-election. They cling to a failed strategy that is only making a mockery of democracy.

In the beginning of January of this year, the Maduro regime swore in 277 new members of Congress to his parallel National Assembly, what is known as a rubber stamped Congress. To add to the list of Maduro’s offenses, nepotism made an appearance. Maduro’s son and wife are part of this new Congress, now effectively an extension of the executive office. This election of the second generation of parallel members of Congress solidifies this second legislature. Maduro has now effectively consolidated every legal process in the Venezuelan government, from the making of laws to their enforcement. The Constitution now serves as a farce, with Maduro operating within this facade of its framework.

The former National Assembly, while officially stripped of power, continues to meet mostly virtually. In a show of power, the military placed soldiers around the members of the opposition party, brandishing their control and squashing an attempt to combat the new National Assembly. This leaves an opening for the United Nations or International Criminal Court to possibly bring human rights violations charges against the military or Maduro himself. A UN panel has declared the government actions in Venezuela to be crimes against humanity and organized relief funds, but they have yet to take any punitive action against Maduro.

In early January, the American Treasury gave the green light for Americans to conduct business directly with Guaidó’s movement, giving them purview over any Venezuelan assets in the US and diplomatic relations. This endorsement still means strikingly little for the Venezuelan citizens.

Venezuelan citizens have little time to pay attention to politics. Most don’t have access to television or the streaming on social media that the politicians are using to get their messages out. The day-to-day is focused on food, shelter and housing in an economy that continues to fall prey to hyper-inflation. The pandemic has made the situation much worse, because the economy has only become a greater source of despair. Healthcare is not managed well, and with fear of a disease, protest is far from anyone’s first thought. The conditions have only worsened since the beginning of the political crisis, and there is little hope left in Guaidó’s movement. The Constitution seems to now be inconsequential, with a military controlled by the effective dictator, who also controls the legislature. Globally, Maduro’s continued rule reflects an inability to protect the citizens of a country whose government has been compromised. Words of support mean little without true action, and right now, there seems to be no meaning to the promises of Guaidó’s global supporters.

Shreya Joshi is from Houston, Texas and is studying International Comparative Studies.

 

pasted image 0-1

From an Iron Curtain to Steel Bars: Alexei Navalny and Russian Democracy

Russia’s premier dissident, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to serve three years in prison earlier this February. As Vladimir Putin’s most prominent political opponent, Mr. Navalny has spent the past 20 years exposing corruption and organizing anti-establishment protests. The latest ruling against Mr. Nalvany hails from a long string of attempts from Moscow to silence anti-establishment forces, ranging from a potentially state-sanctioned poisoning attempt to allegations of embezzlement and fraud. It also sparked the largest day of protest in Russia since 2017 and subsequently one of the country’s most severe crackdowns on civil liberties in recent memory.

The Kremlin has moved swiftly to crack down on the freedom of assembly, dissident fundraising, and civil protections from law enforcement. Human rights watchdogs noted that an estimated 10,000 were arrested nationwide over the two weekend rallies alone, marking the most aggressive wave of detentions since Vladimir Putin’s election in 2000. Moreover, Russian activists assert that the police have been far more aggressive in their latest push to suppress demonstrations, citing denials of request for legal counsel, frequent use of police brutality, and arbitrary raids of protest leaders. Meanwhile, the Russian Parliament has pushed new legislation to curtail common loopholes used by Russians taking part in unauthorized mass gatherings. In recent years, the Parliament has also strengthened illiberal libel laws to silence anti-establishment voices both in the media and on the web. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), among other organizations, has since called on the Russian Federation to “show appropriate tolerance towards unauthorized but peaceful gatherings”. 

While the international community has not taken strong actions against the Kremlin’s suppression of the protests, political entities from the United States and EU have since moved to protect Mr. Navalny. Hours after a Youtube broadcast from a leading member of the Navalny’s coalition, President Joe Biden stated that “he [Mr. Navalny] should be released immediately and without condition”. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also raised concerns about Navalny’s safety with the Russian Foreign Ministry, underscoring American support for the movement. The European Court of Human Rights has “demanded that Russia free Navalny immediately and warns that failing to do so would mark a breach of the European human rights convention”. Moscow has never faced a verdict from the ECHR to set a convict free and likely will use a provision prioritizing national legislation over international laws to ignore the ruling. The country risks losing its membership to Europe’s top human rights organization if it does not comply, which would only underscore Russia’s drift away from integration into the liberal international system.

The latest episode in the Navalny saga put Russia’s embattled democratic institutions in the spotlight. An election campaign fraught with violence and intimidation against journalists resulted in Kremlin-backed candidates sweeping every gubernatorial race, while sustaining losses both in Moscow and in regional elections. The government has continued to harass NGOs and journalists advocating policies that go against the Kremlin’s agenda, labeling them as foreign agents or undesirable organizations, subject to fines, indiscriminate police raids, and arrest. These facts reflect the reality of a multiparty system managed by the Kremlin, which sustains “superficial competition against the dominant United Russia Party”. Should this continue, the Russian democracy of the foreseeable future will likely continue to suffer from pervasive corruption and eroding civil liberties.

It need not be this way. As shown by the thousands of Russian protestors led by Mr. Navalny, the Russian people are willing and able to fight for fair governance. In the face of a suppressive central government, the Russian people have stepped up before, and they can do so again. On February 28th, 1996, the former Soviet Union joined the Council of Europe. In doing so it committed to become a state upholding human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. Reminding the Russian Federation of its promise is the first step to fulfilling it.

Jonathan Tao is from Naperville, Illinois and is studying Economics and Political Science.

main-qimg-06251151eaf451649a80faf095d007ae

Google Threatens To Leave Australia over Proposed News Legislation

Google is threatening to cancel their Google Search services in Australia in response to Canberra’s new law proposal. The proposed Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 is intended to help local news publishers by having media giants like Google and Facebook compensate news outlets through paying license fees for using their journalistic content on their platforms. The proposed laws are specifically in response to Google and Facebook displaying news articles without paying the news publishers. The consequences of this proposed law will be immense for all parties involved as Google has a 94.45% search engine market share in Australia. Their next competitor is Bing with only 3.63% as of January 2021. Meanwhile, 39% of Australians use Facebook as their general news source, according to the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report 2020.

If passed, the law would have news outlets privately or collectively come to an agreement with Google and Facebook on license fees. If an agreement on the amount of fees paid by these media giants is not made within three months of formal negotiations, an Australian judge will arbitrate an agreement.

For Google, this is a matter of billions of dollars. They generate revenue from displaying advertisements next to sites and from clicks. In recent years, the media industry in Australia, and around the world, has been struggling financially. With paper-print subscriptions largely extinct, the public is gravitating toward free websites for news consumption. Some news organizations like the New York Times have maintained a subscription model for their online website. However, smaller media outlets cannot gather enough users to have a financially sustainable online subscription model. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission discovered that for every A$100 of online advertising spent, A$53 goes to Google, A$28 to Facebook, and A$19 to other media companies. It is the hope of the Australian government that the proposed law will allow them to share a percentage of Google’s billion-dollar revenue stream.

Some internet users, most of whom rely extensively on Google Search and other Google Services, are afraid that Australia is overstepping the line by proposing too stringent legislation. Google and Facebook’s home country, the United States, also directly asked the Australian parliament to abandon their proposal. United States Trade Representatives Daniel Bahar and Karl Ehlers wrote to the Australian Senate Committee on Economics, stating “Given the United States’ significant outstanding concerns, we urge Australia not to rush the passage of this legislative proposal.” Others are critical towards Google for playing a power move against Australia to prohibit the government from creating any meaningful legislation against Big Tech. Google’s public threats have been met with similar staunchness from Canberra. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in response that “we don’t respond to threats.” He also said, “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our Parliament.”

Google’s threats are being considered seriously. The tech company has exercised this power once before in January 2021. In what Google called an “experiment,” Google blocked Australian users from seeing local news content from search results. Their monopolistic power was demonstrated by the Guardian’s investigation that showed major local news sources’ main websites, like the Herald Sun, being completely hidden from Google searches. Google said they are simply “running a few experiments that will each reach about 1% of Google Search users in Australia.” However, the timing of Google’s self-proclaimed experiment was seen as a direct response to Australia’s proposed legislation rather than an innocent experiment. In efforts to have public support, Google also put pop-up warnings on their homepage that said “The way Aussies use Google is at risk.” When users click on the warning, they are directed to Google Australia’s open letter against the proposed regulation. Google’s recent actions are chilling examples of their power to determine what is visible on the Internet.

This legislation is on global watch. Similar, albeit more limited, proposals are being debated in the European Union. The EU has a history of going against Big Tech’s free enterprise demands. Two new regulatory laws were introduced in December 2020: Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DSA acts to protect users’ personal data by having platforms reveal their algorithms and content management to the public. The DMA is intended as antitrust law to encourage small companies and discourage monopolies like Google that can unilaterally control what users see through their search engine. Failure to comply with the DSA and DMA can respectively result in fines up to 6% and up to 10% of a firm’s global annual turnover. What occurs in Australia will have far-reaching implications for Google and other Big Tech companies in the EU and around the world in the near future.

Note: Facebook blocked news in Australia as of February 18, 2021.

Hyonjun Yun is from Seoul, South Korea and is studying Political Science and Environmental Sciences and Policy.

Trip

China is Full Steam Ahead on Data Privacy

On January 8th, just a week after China’s Civil Code went into effect, the Hangzhou Internet Court heard and ruled on its first data privacy case. In this case, Sun, the defendant, sold more than 40,000 personal information records to Liu, who used this data for advertising. The records contained people’s full names, email addresses, and social media IDs. The procurator (like a U.S. federal prosecutor) determined that this action constituted an offense against the new privacy protections codified in the Civil Code.

The Civil Code is a decades-long culmination of legal developments in China. It covers the full scope of civil law, such as property rights, contracts, and family law. But among these traditional pillars, the considerably large section reserved for the protection of personal information stands out. In Chapter Six of Part Four, the Civil Code defines privacy as “a natural person’s peace of life and the private space, private activities and private information which he/she is unwilling to divulge.” Essentially, individuals and organizations are prohibited from calling, texting, messaging, and emailing others without their consent. The Civil Code also grants individuals the right to request data deletion or correction from information processors (e.g., social media platforms). These rights and prescriptions build on earlier Chinese cyber-focused legislation, such as the landmark Cybersecurity Law of 2017. In contrast, the Civil Code takes a much more prescriptive approach and incentivizes private citizens to seek legal recourse against privacy incursions.

The codification of data protections in such a principal document marks China’s legislative willingness to adopt privacy as a core value, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). By clearly defining what actions constitute as ‘data abuse,’ it limits the leverage of tech behemoths over individuals’ data. China’s meteoric rise in internet users—from 298 million in 2008 to 989 million in 2020—has necessitated guardrails on the digital economy. With personal data acting as a critical resource in the race to train artificial intelligence models, these new regulations are vital in ensuring that perverse economic incentives do not prevail.

That being said, China’s data regulation authorities have yet to fully mature (although in context, most national data protection structures are still nascent). On balance, China’s data protection framework leans towards national security, which may become a competing interest against “full privacy.” There are also several legal overlaps with previous data protection regulations. Without clear guidance from regulatory bodies, the legal ambiguity risks hindering innovation, as companies become wary of potential legal missteps. Further, it is unclear whether the protections laid out in the Civil Code supersede previous legislation or whether one should interpret them jointly.

To clear up some of these ambiguities, the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) is in the Chinese legislative pipeline. The current draft of the PIPL extends the information processor clauses in the Civil Code, proposing that processors must obtain individuals’ consent to share their data with 3rd parties. Almost any internet entity can fall under the “information processor” umbrella, so if this law is to be strictly enforced, it could create immense compliance burdens for technology companies. For example, many websites frequently contract with cloud providers to store and process data, which means they would have to redraft their terms and conditions and prompt users for renewed consent. But on the flip side, the PIPL disincentivizes the selling and reselling of personal data, which would strengthen privacy. Whichever side of the coin it lands on is still a long way’s off.

China’s commitment to fleshing out its data protection framework is evident. Its recent swift application points to an increase in welfare for China’s citizens. China’s convergence to the maturing GDPR framework signifies an eagerness to keep up with global privacy trends. Under the backdrop of increasing global scrutiny of large technology firms, it is worth paying attention to new data protection legislations. There are enough scarce resources in this world—privacy should not be one of them.

 

Tianjiu Zuo is from Hong Kong and is studying Public Policy and Economics.

pasted image 0

A Devastating Coup d’État and the Assault on the Civil Rights of Myanmar’s People

In a stunning setback for Myanmar’s young democratic government and to the chagrin of international democracies, the country’s military performed a successful coup d’état on February 1, 2021. The de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and several members of her National League for Democracy Party were detained by the military, as the military’s top general Min Hlaing Aung then took over Kyi’s post. In response to the overthrow of a government with strong approval from the people, enraged protestors have flooded the streets of Yangon—Myanmar’s largest city—and various other major cities throughout the country. Suu Kyi’s NLD Party won 83% of the vote in a landslide election; however, the military claims that the election was tainted by voter fraud. Military officials took the dramatic step of a coup, therefore, out of a supposed concern for the integrity of the election. Although the country is racked with fury that the leaders they chose will no longer be representing them, there is also a widespread concern that the military will usher in another authoritarian dark age unseen since the country broke free from military tyranny in the late 2000s, as the de facto leader has begun a push towards undemocratic measures in the realm of cyberspace. After a temporary internet shutdown that hearkened to memories of the military regime that preceded Suu Kyi and a new law proposal that would curb the freedom of the internet, the future of a democratic Myanmar appears far in the horizon.

The military claims that their usurpation of power is in the best interest of the Burmese people because they are responding to allegations of mass voter fraud, although there is little evidence to support their claim. The military junta’s officials cited roughly 10.5 million instances of irregularities during the voting process last year. While the country’s electoral process has some weaknesses with official voting roles and registration, evidence of widespread voter fraud has not come to the limelight. Additionally, several safeguards were in place to combat the potential for voter fraud. After voting, Myanmar citizens ink their fingers with a dye that stains the skin for about a week, making it unlikely that someone could vote at multiple polling places. Furthermore, observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center inspected the voting process to ensure there were no major irregularities. They found no issues. 

The nature of the Myanmar coup was undemocratic in both its execution and its justification. As the coup was underway, the military shut down internet access for the country in order to eliminate public awareness. And on February 5, citing the circulation of what authorities deemed fake news,” the military blocked access to social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram before shutting down the internet for a second time on the next day. Cutting off Myanmar’s communication with the outside world, the military briefly restored the iron grip it had once had before the advent of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic movement just over a decade ago. As Myanmar’s military regime had once isolated its people and prevented communication with the outside world, the recent move to restrict the internet symbolizes a return to the country’s undemocratic past. 

Myanmar’s military leaders are calling for the people to “join hands” with them as they purport to push for democracy even as officials have begun significantly reducing freedoms by strengthening their stranglehold of the internet. Especially worrying is the cybersecurity law that was proposed on February 12, which critics have claimed is aimed at reducing the flow of information within Myanmar from outside the country. The law criminalizes the spread of misinformation” anddisinformation that might cause instability in the country, and perpetrators can face up to 3 years in prison and/or a fine. The government also insists that Internet Service Providers store the personal data of users and make it available to the government. In an overtly undemocratic move, authorities are intent on passing laws that ensure that language they dislike is removed from cyberspace, political dissidents are thrown in jail, and the privacy of citizens is compromised. Soon after the coup, the regime attempted to appease the people with a seemingly good-hearted gesture as they released thousands of prisoners on the Union Day holiday, but its actions are more telling than their tone; those prisons are poised to be filled up quickly with dissidents if the coup is allowed to move forward with its oppressive policies.

Out of fear for a return to the authoritarianism of yesterday, the citizens of Myanmar and liberal democracies throughout the world are taking action against the perpetrators of the coup d’état. In a repudiation of the new government, citizens are engaging in mass protests daily in major cities despite the ban of gatherings of more than 5 people due to Covid-19 concerns. Protesters even demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon out of outrage for China’s muted stance in condemning the coup. The United States, however, has already announced plans to take swift action against officials such as Min Aung Hlaing, who took the helm from Suu Kyi, and his Deputy Soe Win, who will face sanctions by the Biden administration. Nongovernmental organizations and telecommunications companies within Myanmar have also shown a hesitance to embrace the coup. A group of 158 NGOs in Myanmar released a statement in protest of the proposed cybersecurity law, and Telenor, a prominent service provider in Myanmar, is urging the government to maintain an open internet. Telenor is a Norwegian company which has committed to addressing the law according to its “legality, impact on human rights, necessity and transparency,” showing an unwillingness to cooperate with the new order if it attacks the rights of Myanmar’s people. Section 354 of Myanmar’s Constitution clearly indicates that every citizen is entitled  to “express and publish freely their convictions and opinions” yet only weeks into the new regime we are already seeing the junta crack down on speech through their proposed cybersecurity law. Myanmar has suffered under military rule, and its trend towards democracy in the 21st century has inspired hope for a better future. As the country’s progress is threatened, the world is collaborating to denounce and combat the unlawful takeover.

Jacob Rosenzweig is from New York, New York studying History and Classics.

The Farm Bills Come Due: India’s Ongoing Protests

From America’s ‘Summer of Racial Reckoning’ to Hong Kong’s tenacious struggle against legislation sponsored by pro-Beijing officials, protests have been a permanent hallmark of a changing political landscape. In India, the world’s most populous democracy, protestors are clashing against the central government to repeal a set of market-oriented, deregulatory farm laws. The conflict, now in its sixth month, has received international support from celebrities and activists ranging from pop-icon Rihanna to climate change activist Greta Thunberg. The Modi government is under increasing scrutiny for its ongoing crackdown on civil liberties, from free speech to internet access. Prime Minister Modi has not been shy of implementing harsh measures to quell dissent, most notably in supporting the Hindu Nationalist conflict in Kashmir and Jammu. Understanding how the protests arrived at this moment, and how the conflict will resolve, are critical to assessing the health of India’s liberal democracy today.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and Essential Commodities Act, collectively known as the “Farm Bills”, were initiated by the Parliament of India in September 2020. The government presented these new laws as reforms similar to the watershed “New Industrial Policy” in 1991, credited with successfully liberalizing the Indian economy after three decades of socialism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, along with Prime Minister Modi, led the push to adopt these new laws. Those in favor of the new laws argue that they will “help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments” and that “private players would make agriculture profitable for farmers”. 

In effect, the laws liberalize the agricultural sector. India’s farmers make up more than 60% of the total population and traditionally have relied on state-run Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) to bring their produce to market. By guaranteeing farmers a price and exchange through which to exchange their goods, APMCs eliminate price volatility when farmers sell their produce. The 2020 farm bills allow farmers to sell their produce outside APMCs free of state taxes, engage in contract farming, and market their produce freely. The Essential Commodities Act, enacted in 1955, regulates the production and supply of commodities declared “essential” to ensure they are readily available at fair prices. The new bills amend the existing Essential Commodities Act to free items “such as food grains and onions” for trade. Crucially, the act allows the government to fix a minimum support price for the products deemed essential.

Farmers are worried the changes will worsen increasingly unsustainable economic conditions driven by the coronavirus pandemic. A report states that farmers have been plagued by years of “debts and bankruptcies” that “have been driving farmers to high rates of suicide”. The demonstrators believe the recent farming laws would remove critical regulatory protection for small farmers, favoring the positions of large corporate farms. Those opposed to the changes are skeptical that the government will guarantee its price pledges, like the minimum support price, and worry that corporations will take advantage of their diminished bargaining power to purchase their produce for less.

The India Farmers protests are the biggest social unrest that the Modi government has faced since the Prime Minister came into power in 2014. Politicians have long been reluctant to alienate farmers, as they form the largest and most influential voting bloc in India. Changes to the existing state-backed crop-exchange introduce uncertainty that farmers are unlikely to support. The government, however, sees the MSP system as a financially unsustainable institution that raises pressure on the fiscal deficit. As a result, Modi’s faction initially dismissed the protests as being led by a group of Sikh religious nationalists and has recently denied referring the laws to a special committee for further discussion. On January 27th, at least one protestor was killed and 300 police officers were injured when thousands of protestors began demonstrating in New Delhi, many of whom were driving tractors. The farmers clashed with police on the city’s national Republic Day holiday, storming the famous Red Fort. Journalists at the scene were arrested, and some were even taken to court over tweets of police violence. Twitter has since suspended dozens of accounts related to the farmers’ protest, and the government has been cutting off electricity, water, and food activist encampments around the city.

As the Modi government struggles to deal with the fallout from the violence, police in New Delhi have gone as far as to file an FIR alleging Greta Thunberg promoted hatred and criminal conspiracy over a tweet in support of the farmers’ protests. It appears that even with the Supreme Court’s suspension of the implementation of the laws, the conflict will not be going away any time soon. Public debt has risen to record levels worldwide, and countries in all corners of the globe are grappling with how to best balance their books alongside protecting their most vulnerable. In seeking to be fiscally responsible worldwide, India must remember its promise to stay liberally democratic at home.

Jonathan Tao is from Naperville, Illinois and is studying Economics and Political Science.

pasted image 0

Hong Kong’s National Security Law: Yet Another Attack on the City’s Crumbling Democratic Foundation

Since China first hoisted its flag on the soil of Hong Kong in 1997, the former British colony has suffered a downward spiral away from autonomy; its citizens have been stripped of democratic rights and found themselves increasingly subject to the whims of the authoritarian mainland government. Prominent among a recent string of Beijing’s power displays was the mass arrest of 53 people by the Hong Kong police on January 6, 2021, an action taken under the authority of a relatively new national security law—officially named the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region—that the Chinese government enacted last June. Police notably cited this controversial law last December when they charged the Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai with “colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security.” The foreign ministers of the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, issued a join statement in a forceful condemnation of the arrests and of the law that served as their legal basis, stating that “it is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views.” The law and recent actions taken under its authority have instilled a profound fear among democratic countries and the people of Hong Kong that the city’s purportedly separate government is rapidly being subsumed under Chinese hegemony. Although Chinese officials claim that the law was justified and, in fact, long overdue—the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1997 did include a provision for a Basic Law which required Hong Kong to pass a national security law—democratic activists in Hong Kong and observers throughout the world believe China has egregiously violated the rights of the city’s citizenry in a blatant betrayal of both the text and spirit of the 1997 accord. 

The Sino-British agreement formally ended British control over Hong Kong, a process over a century in the making. Britain first assumed control of Hong Kong during the First Opium War in 1842, and in 1898, after decades of dispute, China agreed to lease the island and neighboring vicinities to the UK for 99 years. The peaceful transfer of the territory in 1997 was an especially extraordinary feat  because China had become a communist nation even as Hong Kong developed into a global capitalist hub. Because these two ways of life contrasted so sharply, thorough preparations were necessary to ease the transition. Britain and China agreed to various provisions for preserving the democratic way of life Hong Kong had enjoyed under British rule, an arrangement which established the framework for what became widely referred to as the “one country, two systems” policy. Crucially, Article III Section 5 of the Sino-British agreement states that “rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly…” and various other fundamental democratic rights “will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” and these rights were guaranteed for 50 years after the agreement’s ratification. In spite of this unambiguous commitment to preserve the rights of Hong Kong, China has strayed from these lofty democratic ideals in recent years. 

In 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Lu Kang declared that the Sino-British Joint Declaration “no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong,” a claim thoroughly rejected by British authorities. True to its word, the Chinese government began taking steps in authoritarian directions; Chinese authorities expelled several U.S. journalists, arrested booksellers, and disqualified pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong. The tension in the city reached a boiling point when speculation appeared in 2019 that China was preparing to impose an extradition law that would allow China to try Hong Kong citizens in the mainland’s court system. This extradition law would deny them the benefit of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary that is widely regarded as one of the few remaining bulwarks of the city’s crippled democratic foundation. Many months of violent protests racked the city from June to September, when China finally abandoned its plans for extradition.

The major clashes between police and protesters as well as the damage caused to the city’s infrastructure did not fade from Beijing’s memory once the demonstrations had concluded, and it prompted them to revisit the provision of the Basic Law that had long been ignored, requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law. For years the city had dragged its feet on implementing such a measure, as it was deeply unpopular among citizens. China saw an opening and took it—the security law imposed by Beijing dramatically curtailed Hong Kong’s already dwindling freedom. The law outlines offenses such as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Although punishing these crimes seems uncontroversial on the surface, the details paint a frightening portrait. The parameters of the crimes as defined within the context of the law are extremely broad. For example, damaging public transportation can now be considered an act of “terrorism” according to the national security law, a charge that can prompt a trial in the rather illiberal mainland court system and carry a sentence of up to life in prison. Furthermore, Beijing will open security offices in Hong Kong, establish its own national security commission, and grant Hong Kong’s chief executive—a Chinese ally—the ability to appoint judges for national security cases. This law appears designed to circumvent Hong Kong’s independent judiciary, in addition to various other subversions of the city’s democratic institutions. Furthermore, Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong’s court system seems contradictory to Article III Section 3 of the Joint Declaration, which grants “independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication,” to the territory. 

However heinous, China has the authority to pass certain laws and impose them on Hong Kong because of the Annex III provision in the Basic Law. However, the aggressively anti-democratic nature of the National Security Law has drawn severe criticism and already stirred controversy over its applications. While prominent figures such as Lai have faced charges for violating the new law, the wave of arrests in January included several minor offenders, signaling China’s increasing desire to crack down on dissent of various natures. Some consider Beijing’s bold actions a test for President Joe Biden, who has pledged to push back against China’s economic policies and their abysmal human rights record. The anti-democratic arrests in Hong Kong appear to be a strong-armed affront to the United States in more ways than one. The U.S. has an interest in preserving democracy throughout the world, making Hong Kong a natural ally. Additionally, an American citizen was among those arrested on January 6, adding further tension to the increasingly hostile atmosphere between the global rivals. President Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both promised to uphold a tough stance against China in response to these arrests, suggesting that the bitter relationship between the adversaries will not soften in the near future. Hong Kong’s fragile democracy seems to be fading in the face of aggressive moves by Xi Jinping’s government. China appears unwilling to abide by the 1997 agreement and enthusiastic about imposing their will on the people of Hong Kong. The city is losing its freedom, and it is terrified.

 

Jacob Rosenzweig is from New York, New York studying History and Classics.