October 2020: Series 2

Trade Digest 

Raghav Agrawal

India and South Africa: TRIPS 

India and South Africa jointly sent a communication to the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights requesting a waiver from specific provisions of the TRIPS Agreement to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In brief, India and South Africa have requested that the high standard of protection provided to IP be reduced or done away with until the vaccines are easily available across the world. The countries cited reasons such as limited access and economic capability of  poorer countries to produce the vaccine. 

WTO: COVID-19 Measures by Member States

The WTO has posted the list of all measures undertaken by member states in response to COVID-19 on its dedicated COVID-19 page. The page also contains other such important information such Member Proposals on COVID-19, reports by WTO on the intersection between COVID-19 and World Trade, correspondence with Enquiry Points regarding WTO and other such useful information. The dedicated page is an excellent referral point for anyone aiming to understand what action has been undertaken by member states and the WTO in response to COVID-19. 

US Customs & Border Protection Ban Palm Oil From FGV 

The United States has banned palm oil imports from FGV Holdings, one of Malaysia’s top producers. FGV Holdings supplies palm oil to large companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Nestle. The US Customs and Border Protection announced the ban after a yearlong investigation into the companies labour practices after several groups filed a complaint stating that forced labour, child labour and that workers were facing sexual and physical violence. More information can be found here.

LDCs on Services Waiver 

The Council for Trade in Services held a meeting on 2nd October wherein LDC (Least Developed Countries) proposed a review and more advanced discussions on the Services Waiver granted in 2011. More information regarding the implementation of the waiver can be found here

China’s Concerns over the Indian App Ban 

In the meeting China put forth their concerns regarding restrictions placed by India and USA on Chinese company owned applications TikTok and WeChat. China alleged that these actions were violative of the MFN clause and several provisions under the GATT while India and USA called for greater digital transparency.

First Female Director General of the WTO 

Last week, we shared the five candidates nominated for the upcoming WTO DG Selection Process. Nigeria’s former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee are now the final two candidates for the position of Director General of the WTO. This will mark the first time in history where a woman holds this position. 

You can also find more Trade Remedy Updates from 15/09/20 to 30/09/20 here, on WTO Boutery: Talk Global Trade.

Human Rights

HRC Condemns Burundi, Bolivian Republic of Venezuela & Syrian Arab Republic

Aditi Nagpal

The Human Rights Council passed several resolutions in its forty-fifth session strongly condemning human rights abuses in Burundi and the Bolivian Republic of Venezuela. These human rights violations ranged from extrajudicial killings to repression and persecution on political grounds. The Council also further extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi for an additional year, and the mandate of the independent international fact-finding mission in the Bolivia Republic of Venezuela for two more years.

The Council similarly condemned Syrian Arab Republic for its violations and abuses of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international customary law. The Council further called for accountability of all parties and demanded they comply with all their obligations under international law. 

Bangladesh Protests: Brutal Assault of Noakhali Woman 

Mahima Balaji

Recent footage showcased a brutal video of a Noakhali woman being stripped and assaulted by a group of men in Bangladesh. Human rights organisations and civil society groups also raise concerns regarding the flawed criminal justice system, highlighting the significantly low number of convictions. In this context, Amnesty International Bangladesh has also called for a thorough and impartial investigation from authorities.

The incident has also led to a spark of protests, as hundreds of protests marched towards the Prime Minister’s Office, demanding his resignation for his failure to address rising crimes against women.

The protests also come merely a week after the outrage in neighbouring India concerning the Hatras incident.

International Criminal Law

Criminal Case against Assad Officials filed in German Courts

Sahibnoor Singh Sidhu

On 6th October 2020, the lawyers of the victims of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria informed that they filed criminal complaints against Syrian officials. They have been alleged to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the chlorine and sarin gas attacks in Ghoutta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 which killed 1400-1600 people.

Chemical weapons watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has condemned the use of sarin gas and chlorine munitions by the Syrian government and accused Damascus of storing a covert supply of sarin gas. All efforts to investigate these incidents via the United States Security Council have been blocked by Russia and China.

Germany is currently home to almost 600,000 Syrians. The testimonies that have been suggested include those from 17 survivors and 50 defectors with proper and deep knowledge of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons programme and plans. Germany, like many European countries, has laws which provide universal jurisdiction to prosecute people for crimes against humanity irrespective of where they have been committed. However, the office of the Public Prosecutor has not yet officially confirmed the same. This comes almost two weeks after Netherlands announced its intention to hold the Syrian government responsible under the UN Convention Against Torture.

Law Professors’ Lawsuit against President Trump’s Order Penalising International Criminal Court Supporters

Ruchi Chaudhury

Four law professors and the Open Society Justice Initiative have filed a lawsuit in a federal court against a recent Executive Order issued by President Trump that imposed criminal and civil sanctions for persons supporting the International Criminal Court. The lawsuit contends that the Order violates the constitutional rights of persons advocating for international justice, and virtually penalises them for undertaking work in support of important issues. 

An Executive Order issued by the President on 11 June, 2020 claimed that the actions of the International Criminal Court in asserting its jurisdiction over the US in relation to its alleged conduct in Afghanistan, threaten to impinge upon US sovereignty. The US, not being a signatory of the Rome Statute that created the ICC in 2002, would not accept the “non-consensual” overreach and “illegitimate assertions” of jurisdiction. The order went on to declare the imposition of significant consequences on those persons responsible for the ICC’s transgressions. These include suspension of their or their families’ entry into the US, seizure of property, and liability to face investigation, arrest and detention. 

On 4 October, 2020 four law professors of law along with the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a complaint before a New York federal court against President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, and other officials and their respective Departments. They contend that the order violates their right to freedom of speech (First Amendment right) to support the ICC by illegitimately imposing the prospect of civil and criminal sanctions for professional undertakings. They also argued that the Order was arbitrary (with no requirements of notice-giving) and thus a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Since crucial advocacy in international justice issues stand to be significantly hampered, the Petitioners prayed that the Order be declared ultra vires

It remains to be seen how the lawsuit as instituted will eventually play out. It is pertinent to note that although the US has not ratified the Rome Statute treaty, it was instrumental in setting up the ICC, which happens to be a creature of the said treaty. The causes of action in this lawsuit primarily pertain to US Constitutional and administrative law questions as opposed to positive breaches in its international law obligations, and will have to be decided within these corners. 

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