Respecting rules

December 27,2017

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Some of the final weeks of 2017 saw a further shift towards rightwing politics, with Austria becoming the first Western European country with a far-right presence in its government. This month, the Austrian People Party formed government with the Freedom Party (FPO); a party founded by former members of the Nazi party. The move has obviously sparked protests across the country and has led to anxieties within the civilian population and human rights activists, especially towards matters pertaining to race relations and immigration.

The FPO previously formed a similar coalition government in 2000 which met with widespread criticism by Israel as well as the EU; the latter imposed sanctions on Austria in the form of limiting its voting rights within the EU institutions. It is interesting to note how strongly Israel reacted to neo-Nazis forming a government in a major European country which is deeply reminiscent of the Nazi rule in Austria during the Second World War where Jews were widely discriminated against, suffering from innumerable human rights abuses. This worry on Israel’s part turns the question on themselves in relation to their conduct towards the Palestinians. If Israel shuns anti-Semitism and Nazism, does it also not impliedly accept a duty to refute discrimination and human rights violations in its own practices too? This ‘development’ comes at an interesting time, when Trump has just recently announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Just last week, a resolution proposing the denunciation of Trump’s declaration was vetoed by the United States in the UN Security Council. Not only was the US’ conduct extremely undiplomatic towards the world community, it also bordered on actual bullying, with President Trump as well as US Ambassador Nikki Haley threatening to withdraw aid from countries supporting such resolutions against the US. Haley even went to the extent of saying that all the countries voting against Trump’s declaration would ‘not be forgotten’.

An overwhelming majority of the world community still went ahead and condemned Trump’s declaration in its General Assembly resolution requiring the Jerusalem question to be left to be resolved by Israel and Palestine. Trump and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu still seemed to be intransigent.

On the other hand, North Korea’s recent firing of ballistic missiles led the US to draft a resolution imposing economic sanctions on the regime and the resolution was recently passed by the Security Council. What this highlights is an asymmetrical position within international law. Where an overwhelming majority of countries have taken a stance that the US and its ‘friends’ do not agree with, it is likely to be vetoed but anything proposed by the US itself is bound to be taken more seriously which gives a hegemony to the United States unparalleled by any other country.

No wonder then that when powerful countries like the US and Israel are going to get away with breaches of international norms, other countries with potentially dangerous rightwing leanings would also not have any regard for the values on which the international community has been formed.

Therefore, the Law and Justice Party in Poland has passed laws limiting judicial independence by transferring judicial appointments and judicial scrutiny powers to parliament. Russia seems to be diverging from the ceasefire agreement with Ukraine despite pressure from the international community to conform and, as mentioned above, Austria has formed a coalition government leading to the inclusion of former members of the Nazi party. Just recently, the EU has announced stripping Poland off its voting rights in the EU, a sanction similar to the one imposed on Austria in 2000 which might be repeated once again. However, there is no sanction which may compel recalcitrant states from honouring their international obligations if the ‘standard-setters’ themselves disregard the principles that these rules were meant to advance.

The writer is an advocate of the high court. Email:


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