India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

Business & Politics

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

an image of a road in a desert region

7th July 2020

 

Where did the dispute begin?

The dispute centres on areas of contested territory between China and India. The two countries contest where the border between them lies, which has led to long-standing tensions, including a brief war in 1962. After that war ended, the two countries agreed on a 2,100 mile long demarcation line, known as the Line of Actual Control. However, they did not go so far as negotiating an official border and still do not agree on exactly where the line lies. The Line of Actual Control separates Ladakh, which is part of Indian-administered Kashmir, from Aksai Chin, which India claims as its own territory but which China controls. 

 

What has been happening recently at the border?

Over the last few months, there has been an increasing number of clashes along the Line of Actual Control between Chinese and Indian troops. These have mainly been low-level fistfights, including one larger fight that broke out in May. These tensions have resulted in both countries sending more troops to the border. An escalation occurred on the 15th of June, resulting in death for the first time in 45 years. India lost 20 soldiers, while China has refused to comment on its casualties.

 

What has sparked the recent escalation?

In May, India reported that the Chinese army seemed to have grabbed forty to sixty kilometres of territory in India, including areas not previously disputed. While each side crossing the border is not uncommon, due to the disagreement of where the line is, this was a more severe incursion as it included things like digging trenches and moving heavy equipment. 

 

It is not entirely clear why China would do this, although there are several possible explanations. One reason could be that India has been building a road to an air force base in the area, which China may have seen as a threat, although both sides have built infrastructure in the past. Another possible reason is that China has also been increasingly aggressive in Asia recently, possibly due to other world leaders being distracted by the coronavirus crisis. This includes increased aggression in the South China Sea and a crackdown in Hong Kong. 

 

The increased aggression in Ladakh may be part of this general trend. Additionally, China may be unhappy with India furthering its alliance with the US, including a 3.5 billion dollar arms deal in February. Regarding the clash on the 15th of June, India claims that China launched a premeditated attack on its troops, while China claims that Indian troops crossed the border and provoked Chinese soldiers.

 

Why is this important?

Both India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, possess nuclear weapons. While the chance of these being used remain remote, any increase in tensions inevitably raises the possibility that the two countries could escalate into war. Even if they didn’t use nuclear weapons in a war, it could still be very destructive given the size of their respective armies (two of the biggest in the world) and populations.

 

Can this be resolved?

It may be a positive sign that while both countries have guns and tanks near the border, the recent outbreaks of violence have been confined to fistfights, stone-throwing and some use of clubs. While this has still resulted in multiple casualties, each side has restrained themselves from using firepower. Both countries are banned from using firepower due to a 1996 agreement, which has not yet been broken. However, attempts to deescalate further may be unsuccessful.

 

 Initially, on the 6th of June, both countries agreed to disengage but this did not prevent the fatal attacks on the 15th. On the 24th of June, military commanders agreed again to disengage their troops, and it remains to be seen whether this will reduce tensions. Satellite imagery has since emerged showing  China has built several structures near the clash site from the 15th of June, in an area India claims is on its side of the Line of Actual Control. This casts some doubt on the possibility of disengagement, as this may be seen as a provocation by India. Even if tensions deescalate, the prospects of agreeing on an official border and fully ending the conflict are likely to be low, as several rounds of talks since 1962 have failed to produce one.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Steven Lasry

 

 

Is Vladimir Putin Extending his Russian Authoritarian Regime?

Is Vladimir Putin Extending his Russian Authoritarian Regime?

Vladimir Putin’s term as president of Russia is due to end in 2024, marking 24 years in power. However, the prospects of Putin ending his rule as scheduled had always been considered low, and recent events have confirmed that he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

 

Putin first came into the public eye in Russia in 1999 when he was appointed as Prime Minister by President Boris Yeltsin, and on December 31st 1999 he became acting president when Yeltsin resigned. Putin then ran in the presidential elections in March 2000 and officially became the president of Russia. Unlike in Ireland, the president is the most powerful figure in Russian politics, in charge of directing domestic and foreign policy.

 

Putin served as president until 2008, after being reelected in 2004. In 2008 he could not run again as the Russian constitution prevents presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms. He therefore became prime minister under president Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian prime minister is appointed by the president to be the chair of the government, which is similar to the cabinet in Ireland, consisting of deputy prime ministers, and ministers of the government departments. While this typically means that the prime minister is subordinate to the president, Putin is considered to have remained in control of the country throughout the Medvedev presidency, and Medvedev proposed Putin to run for the presidency again in 2012. Medvedev also enacted changes to the constitution, extending the presidential term from four years to six. As a consequence, Putin ran for a six-year term in 2012 and has remained president since, recently reelected in 2018. However, he is barred from running  for a third consecutive term in 2024. This has led commentators to wonder whether he will appoint a successor or if he will remain in power himself, either by becoming prime minister again or by changing the constitution, for example by getting rid of the rule banning more than two consecutive terms. 

 

That question was answered in January, when Putin announced proposed changes to the constitution. These amendments change the role of the presidency, limiting future presidents to a maximum of two terms in office (as opposed to the current restriction of two consecutive terms), and giving the parliament more power in choosing the prime minister and government. They also give the president more power to dismiss judges, and the president will be able to ask the constitutional court to check the constitutionality of laws proposed by parliament.  Furthermore, they  change the status and role of the State Council, a body which advises the president, probably increasing its power. Other notable changes include a more nationalistic tone, making the constitution superior to international law, preventing anyone who has held foreign citizenship from running for president, and preventing anyone currently holding foreign citizenship from holding important roles such as minister or judge.

 

While the changes were being debated in parliament, the bill was amended to include a re-setting of Putin’s term count back to zero. The constitutional court of Russia approved this change as being legal, meaning Putin is free to run again for two more terms if the amendments are adopted.  He could therefore be president until 2036. The full list of constitutional changes was scheduled to be voted on in a referendum in April, but this has had to be postponed due to coronavirus. Reactions to the proposals have been mixed. No votes were cast against the amendments in the final confirmation in the lower chamber of parliament. However, opposition groups are against the changes, criticising them for opening the door to Putin’s continued power. The opposition have arranged protests against the constitutional amendments, but these have also had to be postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus. Petitions against the legal changes have also circulated.

 

Despite the opposition’s protests, Putin seems to be hoping that the referendum will pass due to his popularity among many Russians, and his inclusion of some socio-economic protections in the constitutional changes. These are that the minimum wage will be prevented from being lower than subsistence level, and that pensions will be indexed (essentially meaning that pension amounts will increase with inflation). However, these are apparently already guaranteed under Russian law, just not in the constitution, so it is not certain whether this will change much for Russians. It is also not clear cut how Russians will vote in the referendum, as Putin’s approval ratings remain high, but Russians seem to be split about 50/50 on whether they want him to stay in power past 2024. However, Putin did not need to put these changes to a referendum, and it is unlikely he would’ve done so if he thought it would fail. Nevertheless  it is possible that Putin’s handling of the coronavirus could affect his ratings and the postponed referendum in ways he may not have anticipated, but this remains to be seen. But with little independent media existing in Russia, the opposition to the constitutional changes is likely to be low.

 

It is not yet clear what Putin will do in 2024 if the constitution is changed, or if he has even decided yet. He could choose to remain on as president, or lead a more empowered State Council and control another president (like he did as prime minister to Medvedev), or something else entirely. It is likely that he won’t reveal his plans until much closer to the end of his current term, and his ultimate decision is likely to be whatever he thinks will be the least risk to himself. Stepping down can be a dangerous move for autocrats who have made enemies during their time in power, and it is unlikely that Putin will expose himself to that risk unless he is convinced he can protect himself.

 

 

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

 

 

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Why Ireland’s Criminal Justice System Needs to Rethink the Use of Prisons

Why Ireland’s Criminal Justice System Needs to Rethink the Use of Prisons

When it comes to accommodation of offenders, Ireland’s criminal justice system is currently facing a serious crisis. Prisons are overcrowded, with many of them currently operating at overcapacity, resulting in prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor, or tripling up in cells. Some would argue that this means we need to build more prisons to increase our capacity to respond to crime. But what about considering the opposite approach – reducing the number of people we decide to lock away from the rest of society?

 

Examining the characteristics of prisoners, it is clear that they often come from highly disadvantaged backgrounds. Over half of all prisoners in Ireland left school before 15 and the majority have no state qualifications, with a small number illiterate. Similarly, back in 2007, it was found that prisoners are twenty-three times more likely to come from a seriously deprived area than from one of the least deprived areas in Ireland. These early disadvantages in life are also reflected in other characteristics – in December 2019, nearly 17% of prisoners (and 46% of prisoners in Ireland’s only all-female prison) were being treated for heroin addiction. Rates of abuse of other drugs and alcohol are also high. Furthermore, there are much higher rates of mental illness among prisoners compared to the general population, including issues such as depression and schizophrenia, and concerningly high self-harm rates.

 

It is distressing that we disproportionately lock up some of the most disadvantaged people in our society, with little regard as to why they might commit crimes or how we might address those underlying causes. Perhaps it is because prison is a place where these people are able to be helped back onto their feet and reformed? Unfortunately, for many people, this does not seem to be the case. 

 

First of all, putting someone in jail makes their life much more difficult once they leave. They may have lost their home, if they had one, due to their inability to pay rent or mortgages while in jail, or have lost touch with family and friends. They have also lost their job, if they had one, and trying to find a new job once you have a conviction on your record can be incredibly difficult. Being homeless or unemployed after being released makes it difficult for ex-prisoners to reintegrate into society and to break cycles of offending, yet we expect people to come out of jail and jump straight back into normal life.

 

Secondly, being in a prison can naturally harm mental health, with prisoners being locked in cells for hours a day, being stigmatized and being less able to see their family and friends. Mental health issues do not automatically go away upon release, and can cause lasting harm. Of course, some people come out of prison eager to change their ways. But for many, prison actually hinders the ability to lead a normal life, both during and after their sentence as there is often very little support given to connect to local services such as welfare payments or mental health support after release. In addition, there are the negative impacts imprisonment can have on the families of those in jail, with partners often being put in difficult financial positions and children having a parent taken away from them.

 

In 2018, the average cost of a space in prison was €73,802 a year. Given the questionable outcomes that we get for this huge expense, with 45% of prisoners reoffending within two years, we should seriously consider cheaper, more effective and more humane ways of dealing with offenders. For people who commit crimes due to drug addictions, surely treating this issue should be the first port of call, rather than criminalising addiction and removing these people from any existing support networks they have by locking them up. Similarly, for people whose mental health problems led to offending, mental health treatment is what is needed, not punishment. Mandatory anger management counselling is also an option that can effectively help reduce reoffending. Where a more punitive sentence is seen as appropriate, community service orders are much cheaper than prison time, and have the benefit of integrating the offender deeper within their community, rather than uprooting them by putting them in prison. This is likely to be more rehabilitative.

 

The government could also look into expanding its restorative justice programme, which is currently only available for youth offenders. Restorative justice is a process which is supposed to help offenders realise the wrong they caused to the victim, and be able to take responsibility for it and make amends. Usually, it takes the form of the victim, offender and a mediator meeting (or the mediator can act as a go-between), where the victim can explain the harm that has been done to them, the offender can apologise and possibly explain what led them to commit the crime, and an agreement on how the offender can make amends is sought. These agreements can include things like paying the victim back for a stolen item, doing community service with an organisation close to the victim’s heart or agreeing to attend alcohol addiction treatment. This is seen by some as a more effective way of rehabilitating offenders, as it enables them to truly understand the consequences of their actions, to take responsibility and to make up for them in a way that is more specific to the harm done than a blanket prison sentence might be. Of course, this won’t be appropriate for every crime, but it is an option that should be considered which can both give the victim more of a voice in the justice system, and reduce our reliance on imprisonment and its harms.

 

Our current approach to criminal justice is not working to reduce crime but is instead harming prisoners, many of whom are incredibly socially and economically disadvantaged. We need to be aware of the factors that can influence someone’s decision to commit a crime, and be more creative about how we deal with those who break the law, for the benefit of us all.

 

 

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

 

 

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COVID-19 Increases Pressure On Criminal Justice Systems Worldwide

COVID-19 Increases Pressure On Criminal Justice Systems Worldwide

As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the need to social distance and to frequently wash our hands has been consistently stressed. But for certain people, such as those locked in prisons, the ability to take these important steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is impossible. This has resulted in cases of uproar among certain prison populations, and big shifts in criminal justice systems worldwide in a few short weeks.

 

Prison riots and escapes linked to the coronavirus have occurred in several countries. In some parts of Italy, these occurred when family visits to prisons were suspended. It’s thought that concerns about overcrowding also fuelled the protests. Riots in Colombia have taken place for similar reasons, with prisoners citing fears over poor hygiene conditions. Several other Latin American countries have seen prison riots and escapes, and immigration detainees in the US have gone on hunger strike seeking increased access to soap. Prisoners’ fears of catching COVID-19 are not unfounded, as cases have been reported in prisons in many countries, including Thailand, Iran, the United States and England. 

 

Once a disease is inside a prison, it can spread very easily. Most prisons are overcrowded, with Penal Reform International reporting that at least 115 countries have prison systems operating at overcapacity, and 22 operating at more than double their capacity. In Ireland, our system as a whole is not at overcapacity, but several individual prisons are. These conditions lead to prisoners sharing cells with multiple people, in spaces designed to hold far fewer people, making social distancing an impossibility.  In January, 47% of Irish prisoners were sharing a cell with at least one person. Additionally, many prisoners have very limited access to soap, and hand sanitizer is often deemed to be a contraband product as it contains alcohol. To top this off, the prison population typically has worse health than the general population, with the World Health Organization finding that prisoners disproportionately suffer from complex health problems, with individuals often suffering from multiple conditions. This makes the prison population very vulnerable to COVID-19, which seems to particularly affect those with underlying health conditions.

 

In light of the ease with which COVID-19 could spread around prisons, various countries have been implementing changes to their criminal justice systems in order to reduce risks to prisoners and prison staff. Early on in the crisis, Iran released 85,000 prisoners, and many countries have made similar moves, with Irish prisons temporarily releasing 236 prisoners due to the pandemic. Releasing prisoners both reduces the risk of catching COVID-19 for those released, provided that they can self-isolate, and allows those left in prison to social distance more effectively.  Another common response has been to severely limit or ban visits from family members, as the Irish Prison Service has done. Arrests and court activity have also been severely reduced in most countries, meaning that fewer people are being committed to prison to await trial, reducing the chances of the virus being brought into prison. In prisons where there have already been cases of the virus, quarantines and isolation of groups of prisoners have been introduced.

 

Are these changes going to be enough? Multiple penal reform and prisoners’ rights advocacy organisations have issued recommendations on how to reduce the risk of the pandemic within prisons. Generally, these have called for further reductions of the prison population than have been implemented, such as Penal Reform International’s recommendations to release as many elderly and chronically ill prisoners as possible. Similarly, a group of prosecutors in the United States has called for all prisoners with six months or less left of their sentence to be released. In Ireland, we still have around 3,900 prisoners in jail, many of whom are serving short sentences for less serious or non-violent offences, or who are now elderly enough that they are unlikely to re-offend. Many of these people will also have chronic illnesses and therefore could be considered for release if their threat to public safety is low, on top of the handful of prisoners currently on release. It is also recommended by many advocacy organisations that prisoners’ rights should not be restricted more than they need to be. It is important to ensure that court dates are not postponed, and are instead done by video and that prisoners can still contact lawyers who are not allowed to visit in person. There have been calls to ensure that prisoners have increased access to video and phone calls to family members, so they are not adversely affected by bans on visits. It is also considered important that those who need to be quarantined do not end up effectively being placed in solitary confinement, which can have severe consequences on mental health. For example, the WHO recommends that prisoners in isolation should be provided with human contact through video calls. 

 

It is interesting to note that many of these recommendations are in line with policies that penal reform organisations have been pushing for decades, in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons and move the criminal justice system to a more rehabilitative model that tries to keep as many people out of prison as possible. These include calls to reduce the number of people in pre-trial detention, the number of people serving very short sentences and the number of people jailed for non-violent crimes. It will be interesting to see what effect the COVID-19 pandemic has on penal reform in the long term, as decisions around reducing the number of prisoners which weeks ago would’ve been politically unpalatable have now been implemented in so many countries in record time. 

 

 

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

 

 

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An Examination of Statelessness

An Examination of Statelessness

It’s often the things you take for granted in life that are the most important. The passport you use when going on holidays, the birth certificate sitting in the back of your filing cabinet, the PPSN that you use to do your taxes. But, imagine your life if you didn’t have those documents – no going abroad, not being able to register for school, not being able to get a job. This is the reality of life for up to 10 million people globally, who do not have a nationality, who have none of those documents. These people are stateless, meaning that they do not have any official nationality. Often trapped in poverty, there is no way of improving their situation due to difficulty accessing healthcare, education, and employment. Overall, this can be a very difficult situation to solve. 

 

Statelessness can happen in a few ways. Some people become stateless due to purposeful discrimination by governments, while others may be affected by accident, when country boundaries change or when there are gaps in nationality laws. Other people may become stateless because they are refugees, which can make it difficult to prove where they or their parents were born due to a lack of documentation. Some children experience statelessness because of nationality laws which disallow their mothers from passing on citizenship, such as in Qatar. This means that if the child’s father is unknown or from a country with laws keeping him from passing on citizenship for some reason, the child will be unable to receive a nationality. Often entire groups of people end up stateless, just like how lots of people became stateless after the Soviet Union dissolved into multiple countries and their Soviet nationality ceased to exist. As well as groups affected by geographic changes, the UNHCR estimates that up to 75% of stateless people are members of minority groups, who are often explicitly discriminated against by the state they should be nationals of. An example of a stateless minority group are the Rohinga in Myanmar. While this group is best known for the intense violence it suffered and the huge refugee crisis which followed, few people know that citizenship laws passed in 1982 effectively denied the Rohinga (alongside some other minority ethnicities) the right to a nationality in Myanmar.

 

What is being done to prevent statelessness and to reduce the number of people currently stateless? The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and two United Nations international legal conventions exist to provide standards that states should stick to in order to reduce and prevent statelessness. Unfortunately, many states routinely ignore these international laws. Some success has been seen, such as with the elimination of the issue from Kyrgyzstan, where the last 13,700 people who were stateless were granted citizenship between 2014 and 2019. However, many countries maintain discriminatory laws which will be difficult to convince them to change. Last month, India changed the law to make it easier for followers of all of the subcontinent’s religions, except Islam, to acquire citizenship. At the same time, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to compile a register of all India’s 1.3 billion citizens, as a means to hunt down illegal immigrants. With many of the country’s 200 million Muslims not having the papers to prove that they are Indian, they risk being made stateless. Further, the government has expressed the desire to build camps to detain those that are caught. 

Increasing numbers of refugees could also lead to an increase in the numbers of stateless people. Ultimately, it will be important for states to cooperate to try to reduce and prevent statelessness – for example by reforming their citizenship laws to allow newborn children who would otherwise be stateless to acquire citizenship. Colombia is setting a great example in this regard, living up to its international obligations by granting the children of all Venezuelan refugees the right to be Colombian citizens. The UNHCR recommends countries set up statelessness determination procedures to ensure that stateless people are able to get recognised.  In order to encourage other nations to follow this example and work to help statelessness and its harms become a thing of the past, both international and domestic pressure will be necessary. The UNHCR is running a campaign, #IBelong, to raise awareness of statelessness in the hope that governments will feel the need to change their ways. We will need governments that are willing to reform their laws to prevent children from being born stateless and to increase the ease with which stateless people can naturalise. Only then will we be able to remove this major barrier to the access of basic human rights.

 

 

 

Photo by Sarah-Rose on Flickr

 

 

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Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories.

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