Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Independence and Fraternity – A thought on Sri Lanka’s independence day

4 mins read

Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine

Independence Day in Sri Lanka has now both a national and an international connotation.

It is indeed curious that the 4th of February each year marks the commemoration of Sri Lanka’s independence which Sri Lanka achieved from the ruling British Raj in 1948 and The International Day for Human Fraternity, which was the collective initiative of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2021.   The United Nations Resolution which adopted The International Day for Human Fraternity – which was co sponsored by 34 Member States of the United Nations – expressed deep concern for acts that advocate religious hatred and undermine the spirit of tolerance and recognized “ the valuable contributions of people of all religions and beliefs to humanity and underlines the role of education in promoting tolerance and eliminating discrimination based on religion or belief. It commends all international, regional, national, and local initiatives and efforts by religious leaders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue”.

In recent times many significant attempts have been made by the religious leaders of Sri Lanka to eliminate discrimination based on religion or belief. Tolerance, recognition and respect for the Christian faith has been nobly demonstrated by the members of the Buddhist clergy and this recognition has been reciprocated by the Christian church leaders, thus bringing together a collective rejection of religious and cultural bigotry.  Both Buddhism and Christianity have commonalities, as was said by James Fredericks of Loyola Marymount University: “Practices that Buddhism and Catholicism have in common include monasticism and clerical celibacy, meditation and chanting (we call it the “rosary”). Catholics have lots of devotions. Buddhists also like devotional practices. We should teach each other about the Blessed Virgin and Kannon Bosatsu”. Pope Francis in 2020  called  on Catholics to “reach out to those who follow other religious paths” encouraging Catholics to enter into what he calls a “dialogue of fraternity” that is calculated to work together in the wider community to promote the common good and human flourishing.

One instance that brought to bear this empathetic trend was seen in   the aftermath of the Easter Sunday devastation on 21 April 2019 caused in three churches in Sri Lanka, as well as in  three luxury hotels in the commercial capital, Colombo.  More than 100 people were killed in the three churches as well as  39 tourists outside.  In a rare gesture of fraternity Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders joined the commemoration of the destruction on Easter Sunday at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, where they offered prayers and observed a two-minute silence to remember the dead.  Monsignor Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo said:”“ Catholics of Sri Lanka should play an active role, along with other religious communities, in creating a united country, giving space and respect to different ethnicities, faiths and political organizations”. Two years after the bombing, on Easter Sunday during Mass, Cardinal Ranjith is reported to have said: “ “Today Holy Father Pope Francis has visited Iraq and has had a discussion with the Shia leaders (in Iran). It shows religious leaders in the world think about unity and brotherhood, not about creating strife. Therefore, I request anyone inclined to create conflict on account of religion to give up that idea”.

Another significant milestone in the demonstration of fraternity was seen politically where, irrespective of religion or ethnic background, thousands of Sri Lankans demonstrated peacefully in what was called “ Aragalaya” in 2022 – an independent and collective effort of people power without visible single leadership – which forced the political leadership of Sri Lanka to vacate office.  The Aragalaya was a signal combination of the independence of the citizen demonstrated with abiding fraternity. The thousands of youth and elders invoked   what is now called “collective leadership” – a form of leadership that has become a trend where multiple individuals exercise their leadership roles within a group whereafter the entire group collectively provides  group leadership to the entire populace involved in protesting. Collective leadership has been further explained by David Trafford, Co-author of Beyond Default and Managing Director of Formicio, a strategy and change management consultancy, and Peter Boggis, Co-author of Beyond Default “It’s a fluid and flexible approach to leadership, where roles and resultant accountabilities evolve in response to changing circumstances”.

Aragalaya brought to bear the true meaning of independence of the people and was pursued by all without racial, religious and ethnic barriers. The protesters gave a valuable lesson in the context of the words pertaining to the extinguishing of impressions created by the flaws of constitutional democracy.  When they fought for removal of the existing leadership, the argument given by the rulers was that leadership could be changed only through a constitutional process which allowed the leadership to remain for a couple of years more.  The implication was that the people had no independence to summarily throw out an unacceptable regime. The attempt to kill the principles of the protesters by the argument seemingly based on democracy was obviated by the protesters who showed collective strength of the principle “salus populi est suprema lex” (the welfare of the populace is the supreme law). The Aragalaya has also did something very significant and valuable for Sri Lanka and its present and future generations: it finally put to rest the perceived implacability of the so-called democracy and parliamentary process behind which mendacious leaders take solace.  The protesters exposed  this fallacy and demonstrated their true independence.

True independence of the nation (people) was eloquently  elaborated by the Hon. D.S. Senanayake, then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when the Union Jack was finally lowered to make way for the Lion flag on 4 February 1948: “Freedom carries with it grave responsibilities. Our acts and omissions henceforth are our own. No longer can we lay the blame for defects and errors in our administration on others. It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen of Lanka to grasp this opportunity and to strive and toil willingly for advancing the happiness and prosperity of the country. Our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us, and to set ourselves with the resolute will to build up that high quality, and to join with the other nations of the world in establishing peace, security and justice for all peoples.”

If this isn’t a testimony to independence and fraternity and their symbiosis, nothing else is.

Flight MH 17 and The Little Dutch Girl – A Personal Reflection

4 mins read

You are an open wound

And we are standing

In a pool of your blood

Rupi Kaur

25th of January 2023 was significant from a judicial standpoint, but it was a grim reminder of how many lives were stolen in the most violent and egregious way.

The Destruction

One of the worst atrocities in the annals of civil aviation was perpetrated when Flight MH 17 was destroyed over Eastern Ukraine by a ground-based missile. Was Russia to blame? Or was it Ukraine? Or even the airline for flying over dangerous territory?  The aircraft operating the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine about 60km from the Russian border on 17 July 2014, allegedly by pro-Russia separatists.  All the 298 passengers – 193 of whom were Dutch – are believed to have died, and some of the remains of those who perished were never recovered. It is now revealed that death was not instantaneous.

Everyone seemingly responsible for the heinous act started deflecting blame, and a little girl (and all others on board) on the flight was forgotten, except for her  devastated father who grieved the unbearable loss of his only child. 

From then on, everything became clinical and adjudicatory.

Seven and a half years later, The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 25th January 2023 – on a purely procedural and technical issue –  that complaints against Russia from Ukraine and the Netherlands should go to trial, but it was not about what the little Dutch girl lost. Who would care anymore, anyway?

The European Court of Human rights, in a press release said: “Among other things, the Court found that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands were, from May 11, 2014 and up to at least January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation” , referring to “the presence in eastern Ukraine of Russian military personnel from April 2014 and the large-scale deployment of Russian troops from August 2014 at the latest.”

The Little Dutch Girl

One day in mid July 2014 a young girl –  full of hope for her future and bubbling with the energy of youth – boarded a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, in Amsterdam.  She had everything in life to be thankful for  – a university education,  romance and courting, a good life  with a warm home and a family – all  in front of her.  The best was yet to come.  It was time for new life to start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that her young  heart could take.  Her  penalty for being born was not even in the distant horizon.

Her destination was Kuala Lumpur, and she was looking forward to a lighthearted romp on a fun flight and a glorious holiday with her family who were travelling with her.  

Yet she did not make it.

Every day, people die of accidents caused by their own negligence, or diseases beyond their control. People also die of intentional killing by others. Somewhat rarely, people suffer death through random acts of violence – like the little Dutch girl. For her there was no second chance.  There was no going back to the perfumed meadow of Summer. It was as though an alien sky swallowed her that clear day and the future became an illusion.

There are no answers no good, no evil only a million promises not kept that day when it raised its ugly head.  We can only fill the craters with ashes; level the furrows plant grass, trees, flowers lay white gravel path some rustic benches – a public park and hush the cries of orphaned parents.

But there was no one when darkness fell that night and all the lights went out.  She should have had someone that she could find.  She should not have been alone to weep.

My Reflections

Today, that little girl would have been in her early twenties. What would she be doing? Perhaps reminiscing over her first and only love at university? The first time she saw him and looked down and walked away? How memories of him protecting both under a tiny umbrella when they walked alone in the rain flood her mind? How she forgot to tell him what was on her mind? How she hurt for having forgotten to tell him what was on her mind? How excited she felt when she scored high grades and ran up to tell him? The look on dad’s face when she told him of her grades.

Maybe she would be holding her first born lovingly and tenderly, while her baby peered at her radiant like a pearl in an oyster that had a little door. She would have been overwhelmed with joy as though her whole world had been invigorated by the touch of a butterfly and the splash of a drop of dew. She could have had many days walking through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth amidst the laughter and joy of simple pleasures.

We Failed Her

We did not keep our promises to a little girl who depended on us for her safety We did not have stringent regulations, and Standards to stop that flight.  We knew the area was dangerous,  infested with unscrupulous elements holding  ground-based missiles. Yet we did nothing to prevent the ominous and grave risk that was posed to the flight. We did not have a system of sharing and disseminating threat information in a timely manner. We did not know to whom this information should have been relayed.  We don’t seem to have known what risk avoidance was – that it involved a risk assessment technique that entails eliminating hazards, activities and exposures that place valuable assets at risk.  In the case of civil aviation within the context of conflict zones this would mean eliminating hazards by avoiding the airspace over that zone entirely.  Unlike risk management, which is calculated to control dangers and risks, risk avoidance totally bypasses a risk.  The information to States on threats posed to their civil aviation over conflict zones would therefore had  to be disseminated through policy and procedure, training and education and technology implementations.

We did not do that.

Sorry little girl. May the doors of heaven open at the sound of your footsteps May a bright angel watch over and follow you  through your  inevitable journey. May we meet again on the horizon of eternity when our ship finally sails beyond every limit of our sight.

Above all, may we never walk away from you.

Remembering The Holocaust – When Abuse of Power And Hatred Met

4 mins read

“Of course, it was, under the law of all civilized peoples, a crime for a man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it come that multiplying this crime by a million, and adding firearms to bare knuckles, made it a legally innocent act?” Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (1945)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day fell on 27th January, as it does every year, in commemoration of the day in 1945 when  the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – where in excess of  one million people were sent to gas chambers  to meet their agonizing deaths during the Holocaust – was liberated. One commentary says: “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and mass murder of millions of European Jews, Romani people, the intellectually disabled, political dissidents and homosexuals by the German Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. The word “holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar”.

One could not be blamed for thinking that the categories that the victims fell into –  as decided for extermination by the Nazis  – could have been described by the Nazi regime as “useless vermin” (particularly in the context of how they were disposed of)  although 78 years after the liberation of the camp we overwhelmingly recognize them as valuable and innocent human lives. The victims were persecuted, tortured, and killed based on their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.  The Nazis  had been involved in annihilating, in the cruellest possible manner, not only Jews, but also Russians, Belarusians, Poles, Ukrainians and Serbs, Romanis (gypsies), LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), the mentally or physically disabled, mentally ill; Soviet POWs, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people of the Baháʼí Faith, among others.

It is arguable that the two pivotal words that impelled the unspeakably egregious and evil acts perpetrated in the Holocaust are “power” and hatred”. Recent results of test conducted have revealed that when people are given power they wield it in accordance with their mor a al and ethical values.  The question is, do good people perpetrate bad deeds when they have power over others, or is it only the bad and the evil who are guilty?  Smithsonian Magazine reports: ”  a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that… people’s sense of “moral identity”—the degree to which they thought it was important to their sense of self to be “caring,” “compassionate,” “fair,” “generous” and so on—shaped their responses to feelings of power”.

In other words, Lord Acton’s famous words “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” may no longer ring true in all instances.  Good persons may exercise powers equitably, with empathy and  goodness while the evil may exercise their power iniquitously with egregious intent.  The bottom line seems to settle at Abraham Lincoln’s statement that   “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The most evil use of power is fueled by hatred, which has been described as “the most destructive affective phenomenon in the history of human nature”.   The inevitable corollary to hatred  is hate propaganda which often ingrains itself in a social system where the social degradation of the subject occupies the forefront of political discourse. Hate propaganda, spawned by hate speech, dehumanizes and depersonalizes the subject, degrading him to an imaginary persona and relegating him to the lowest depths usually assigned to a sub human species.

The immediate reaction of a society to this phenomenon is the recognition of hate crimes which emerge from hate speech and propaganda as any other crime, thus obfuscating the hatred that inspired such crimes and trivializing their qualitatively different nature. The ultimate result is of course the social acceptability of hate crimes and their desirability. This odious conclusion to a parasitic process is almost ephemeral and pervades the intellectual consciousness of a society to its ultimate destruction.

The mission of our institutions should be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race, religion, language or wealth of persons. This will require us to look beyond the framework of cultural nuances. States and their educational authorities must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character. As former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said, a genocide begins with the killing of one man – not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one person is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity.

We must therefore start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The power of seniority of status or particular immunity must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights, nor must the authorities concerned turn a blind eye to atrocities that may likely be committed on the young and the innocent. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.

Truth and justice are unhappily mutually exclusive. While in legal terms, legislative parameters will define acts and qualitize their reprehensibility, in truth, speech and conduct that ingratiate themselves to a society have to be addressed politically. This is the dilemma that legislators will face in dealing with racial hatred. Hate speech and hate propaganda primarily erode ethical boundaries and convey an unequivocal message of contempt and degradation. The operative question then becomes ethical, as to whether societal mores would abnegate their vigil and tolerate some members of society inciting their fellow citizens to degrade, demean and cause indignity to other members of the very same society, with the ultimate aim of harming them? Conversely, is there any obligation on a society to actively protect all its members from indignity and physical harm caused by hatred?

The answer to both these questions lies in the fundamental issue of restrictions on racist speech, and the indignity that one would suffer in living in a society that might tolerate racist speech. Obviously, a society committed to protecting principles of social and political equality cannot look by and passively endorse such atrocities, and much would depend on the efficacy of a State’s coercive mechanisms. These mechanisms must not only be punitive, but should also be sufficiently compelling to ensure that members of a society not only respect a particular law but also internalize the effects of their proscribed acts.

Air Taxis and Vertiports – A Growing Trend In 2023

4 mins read

If transportation technology was moving along as fast as microprocessor technology, then the day after tomorrow I would be able to get in a taxi cab and be in Tokyo in 30 seconds ~ W. Daniel Hillis

Known as flying cars by some, air taxis (or flying taxis)   are technically known as EVTOL (electric, vertical take off and landing) aircraft.  In other words, they are drones propelled by multirotor  equipment and are usually designed to carry less than a dozen passengers (there are two seater air taxis in the design phase in China and Germany)..  Air taxis are calculated to ease traffic congestion on the roads making it easy for commuters to get from one place to another without being bogged down in traffic. A good example where air taxis could be beneficial is in the context of a rush to the airport to catch a flight or a dash to the railway station to make it to a train which is few and far between during the day.   Air taxis take off and land vertically, obviating the need for runways needed by conventional aircraft, and land in vertiports – described as “half airports, half subway stations”.

EVTOLs other uses are in search and rescue operations, transporting organs for transplant, as well as delivery and tourism. It is estimated that in the coming decades there could be  hundreds or even thousands of EVTOLs in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States .

The Economist’s annual journal The World Ahead 2023 says: “air travel turns profitable as international arrivals  soar by 30%. But they stay below pre-pandemic levels”. At present only up to one third of air travel pre 2019 can be seen, but the demand for travel is growing. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA)  – the trade association of airlines – has forecast that there will be a return to pre pandemic levels for global airlines by around end-2023, calling it “about the right timeframe”. The use of air taxis would largely be domestic, particularly in large countries such as the United States, Canada, China and India which have large domestic markets.  The exponential increase in international air travel would in turn mean that air taxis would be a popular and efficient mode of transport in the context of domestic connections.

The Economist goes on to say: “This will be a crucial year for the aviation pioneers developing electric vertical take off and landing (EVTOL) aircraft …several firms are hoping to obtain the necessary certification in 2023 to commence commercial production, paving the way for the fast passenger services”.

Prior to starting to manufacture these aircraft, manufacturers and regulators would have to agree on safety standards and the latter would have to issue a license for the aircraft before passengers can be carried.  BBC Science Focus reports: “Many developers believe their vehicles will be safety certified and cleared for take off by 2025, if not sooner. Boeing, Airbus and Hyundai are some of the familiar names building air taxis. Another is Joby, which bought Uber Elevate, the ride-sharing giant’s foray into eVTOLs, in December 2020. Meanwhile, British firm Vertical claims to have the highest number of conditional pre-orders with the likes of Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines among the investors lining up for its VA-X4 vehicle”. The Report goes on to say that sprawling and congested cities such as  Los Angeles i São Paulo, Osaka and Singapore are some of the cities preparing for the advent of advanced air mobility offered by air taxis. In Europe the continent’s first vertiport  is being built in France in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics,  with the United Kingdom following close. 

Regulations on air taxis in most countries are yet to attain fruition. However, air taxis could arguably be considered analogous to any aircraft big or small, and therefore regulators could well be influenced by current international regulations applying to the manufacture of commercial aircraft. Annex 8 to The Chicago Convention which addresses issues of airworthiness of aircraft provides that the State of manufacture is required to ensure that each aircraft, including parts manufactured by sub-contractors, conforms to the approved design, and that the State taking responsibility for the production of parts manufactured under the design approval has to ensure that the parts conform to the approved design.

The Annex begins with an obligatory provision on the State of design of an aircraft by saying that it is required to transmit to every Contracting State which has advised the State of Design that it has entered the aircraft on its register, and to any other Contracting State upon request, any generally applicable information which it has found necessary for the continuing airworthiness of the aircraft, including its engines and propellers when applicable, and for the safe operation of the aircraft, and notification of the suspension or revocation of a Type Certificate. For its part, the State of Registry has to ensure that, when it first enters on its register an aircraft of a particular type for which it is not the State of Design and issues or validates a Certificate of Airworthiness it is required to advise the State of Design that it has entered such an aircraft on its register.

The State of Design has to ensure that, where the State of Manufacture of an aircraft is other than the State of Design, there is an agreement acceptable to both States to ensure that the manufacturing organization cooperates with the organization responsible for the type design in assessing information received on experience with operating the aircraft. The State of Manufacture of an aircraft is obligated to ensure that, where it is not the State of Design, there is an agreement acceptable to both States to ensure that the manufacturing organization cooperates with the organization responsible for the type design in assessing information received on experience with operating the aircraft.

There is also a requirement (not specifically aimed at manufacturers) that compliance with the Standards prescribed as above is required to be established by flight. Chapter 4 of the Annex stipulates that the functioning of all moving parts essential to the safe operation of the aeroplane is required to be demonstrated by suitable tests in order to ensure that they will function correctly under all operating conditions for such parts.  Initially air taxis will have crew piloting the aircraft. Annex 8  contains a requirement that the aircraft be provided with approved instruments and equipment necessary for the safe operation of the aeroplane in the anticipated operating conditions. These include the instruments and equipment necessary to enable the crew to operate the aeroplane within its operating limitations.  The underlying principle is that the aircraft is required to have such stability in relation to its flight characteristics, performance, structural strength, and most probable operating conditions (e.g. aeroplane configurations and speed ranges) so as to ensure that demands made on the pilot’s powers of concentration are not excessive when the stage of the flight at which these demands occur and their duration are taken into account.

Certification of airworthiness of an air taxi is a serious business and internal regulations of a country must consider analogous standards already established by member States of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Use of Lethal Drones in War – Are the Laws Silent?

6 mins read

“I know it is bad, but we must finish it.

It does not finish. There is no finish to a war.

War is not won by victory.”

Extracted from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

There is a famous Latin maxim Inter arma enim silent leges attributed to Cicero – known by some as the greatest orator who ever lived – which translates as “In times of war, the laws are silent”. In the 21st century, this maxim, which was purported to address the growing mob violence and thuggery of Cicero’s time, has taken on a different and a more complex dimension, extending conventional warfare in the air to the use of lethal drones (remotely operated flying missiles) as arbitrary killing machines.

The devastating damage caused by drones in war causes the greatest number of civilian fatalities along with destruction of buildings, reducing them to piles of rubble.  This type of attack was seen in 2011 where  an American drone is reported to have hovered above Pakistan’s Waziristan area one day in March 2011 and unleashed three missiles on a gathering of people, some of whom were armed.  Most of the 40 or so killed were civilians.   These drones were operated in most instances, far away from the actual zone of attack by trained personnel operating hand held consoles.  A strike is called a bugsplat.   .

In March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which inter alia decided to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians.  The Resolution also authorized Member States to take all necessary measures, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi.  This resulted in concerted air attacks by NATO forces on Libya. 

 The First Question

The first question is: “what redress do innocent victims of war have against egregious air attacks?”

From an international perspective, the operative law with regard to victims of war is international humanitarian law. This limb of law is also known as the law of war, the laws and customs of war or the law of armed conflict. Basically, international humanitarian law encompasses four limbs, the first being that persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in hostilities must be respected, protected and treated humanely. They must be given appropriate care, without any discrimination. Secondly, captured combatants and other persons whose freedom has been restricted are required to be treated humanely. They should be protected against all acts of violence, in particular against torture and if they are brought to trial they have the right to enjoy the fundamental guarantees of a regular judicial procedure. Thirdly, the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited. No superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering must be inflicted. Finally, in order to spare the civilian population, armed forces are required at all times to distinguish between the civilian population and civilian objects on the one hand, and military objectives on the other. Neither the civilian population as such nor individual civilians or civilian objects should be the target of military attacks.

Within these four precepts, international humanitarian law is entrenched as the legal corpus comprised of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions as well as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law. The Geneva Conventions consist of four treaties formulated in Geneva, which set the pace in Standards for international law as applicable to humanitarian concerns. The fourth Convention, which relates to the protection of civilians during times of war in the hands of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power, provides in Article 3 that even where there is not a conflict of international character the parties must as a minimum adhere to minimal protections that should be accorded to certain categories of persons. These persons are described as: non-combatants, who usually are civilians, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause. Article 3 also requires these persons to be in all circumstances treated humanely, with the following prohibitions: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b)taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Article 4 defines a person protected by the Geneva Conventions as one who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, finds himself, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or occupying power of which he or she is not a national. However, it explicitly excludes nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention and the citizens of a neutral state or an allied state if that state has normal diplomatic relations with in the State in whose hands they are.

What is :  “War?”

The term “war” is no longer used in its traditional restrictive sense of a conflict involving international dimensions. In the modern sense, war is any prolonged state of violent, large-scale conflict involving two or more groups of people and is now considered to include non-international armed conflicts as referred to in Article 3 of the fourth 1949 Geneva Convention. Also, humanitarian law does not apply only to victims of wars between international actors. Professor Rainer Hoffman, in his report to the International Law Association’s seventy second conference observed that if present international law admits of an individual’s right against a State for injuries suffered during the course of a war in which that State is involved, it must necessarily follow that it is difficult to maintain that the same right might not prevail against international organizations and non-State actors. He further stated that if such Organizations and non-State actors are subjects of international law and engage in acts which could have been committed, under traditional international law, only by States and thus behave like or as States, then they should, in principle be held accountable in the same way as States.

The Second Question

The Second question addressed in this article is: Can the law, administered by the courts, play an active role in preventing or bringing the carnage  caused by drones to a halt?

When the PAN AM disaster over Lockerbie in Scotland which was caused in 1989 was considered by  the International Court of Justice, Vice President of the Court – Justice C.G. Weeramantry – delivered his famous judgment where he said inter alia: “A great judge once observed that the laws are not silent amidst the clash of arms.  In our age we need also to assert that the laws are not powerless to prevent the clash of arms.  The entire law of the United Nations has been built up around the notion of peace and the prevention of conflict.  The Court, in an appropriate case, where possible conflict threatens rights that are being litigated before it, is not powerless to issue provisional measures conserving those rights by restraining an escalation of the dispute and the possible resort to force.  That would be entirely within its mandate and in total conformity with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations and international law.  Particularly, when situations are tense, with danger signals flashing all around, it seems that this Court should make a positive response with such measures as are within its jurisdiction.

 If the conservation of rights which are sub judice comes within the jurisdiction of the Court, as I have no doubt it does, an order restraining damage to those rights through conflict must also lie within that province.  If international law is to grow and serve the cause of peace as it is meant to do, the Court cannot avoid the responsibility in an appropriate case.

I would indicate provisional measures proprio motu against both parties preventing such aggravation or extension of the dispute as might result in the use of force by either or both parties.  Such measures do not conflict with any decision the Security Council has made under Chapter V11, nor with any obligation arising under Article 25, nor with the principle underlying Article 103.  The way towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute may thus be preserved before the parties find themselves on paths from which there may be no return.  This action is based on Article 41 of the Statute of the Court and Articles 73, 74 and 75 of the Rules of Court”. 


The imposition of sanctions against an aggressor, coupled with military aid to the State attacked has not historically worked.  They have only made one party more determined in its actions.  An example is Cuba which carried on relentlessly amidst decades of sanctions imposed against it. Short of nuclear devastation, capitulation is rarely achieved in the modern age.  On the other hand, diplomatic negotiation based on judicial interpretation and intervention might well work in modern warfare. For this, the entire world should coalesce.

We should give this approach a serious try. 

Aviation Trends in 2023

7 mins read

It’s good to learn from your mistakes.  It is better to learn from other peoples’ mistakes…Warren Buffett

The pandemic wrecked havoc on aviation over the past three years and now the end seems in sight.  Those starved of satiating their appetite for flying no longer face stringent health barriers and have unleashed their pent up frustrations of claustrophobia with a vengeance, filling  up aircraft all over the world.  The demand for air transport has bounced back in leaps and bounds, perhaps much more than expected, prompting Thomas Romig, Vice President of safety, security and operations at Airports Council International (ACI) to say: “ as countries lifted measures, the traffic just bounced – almost on a vertical line.  It would be flat for a little while and then another vertical leap in demand.  Growth like that has obviously been much harder to manage”.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said: “ The travel recovery continues to gather momentum. People need to travel. And when governments remove COVID-19 restrictions, they do. Many major international route areas – including within Europe, and the Middle East-North America routes – are already exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels”. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in a statement issued in May 2022 said there were ” “ clear signs of a strong global recovery in air traffic, characterized by increasing airline confidence and a range of regional air connectivity and air travel facilitation improvements”.

Air Transport

The volatility of geopolitics, public health and the energy crisis effectively precludes one from reaching any accuracy in forecasting.  However,  it is not difficult to hazard a conjecture based on plausibility and  foresight. The introduction of masks, safety protocols, and service disruptions has left its impact leading to a continuing trend of “permanxiety” – a word coined by Skift in 2017 “to describe how social, political, and climate turmoil is coloring consumer expectations of everything, including travel. Skift went on to say that “travelers endure a barrage of worries about terrorism, security, neo-isolationism, racial tension, Trumpism, technology and its adverse role, the widening economic gap, culture wars, climate change, and other geopolitical and local issues.”

Permanxiety could be seriously aggravated by delays in border crossings in 2023 brought about by inadequate staffing, computer glitches and delays in visa processing. It has been estimated that in the United States alone “The delays will prevent 6.6 million international inbound visitors from coming to the U.S”. Prolonged visa processing times, lack of trained staff have also affected Europe which have exhibited “pathetic turnaround times”.

All these factors have given rise to a trend where pre Covid business travellers and tourists resorted to “bleisure” – a hybrid of business and leisure travel. The hospitality industry joined in on this concept, an example being the Hilton chain which started a competition to identify and provide for the blended business and leisure traveller. It is plausible that this compromise trend will continue through 2023.

Intriguingly, these bottlenecks and implosive trends seemingly do not adversely affect the revenue side of the equation for airlines. Aviation by Inform says: “Moody’s Investor Service is forecasting a positive outlook for the aviation industry in 2023. The organization is projecting operating profits for those airlines it rates to increase by more than 200% in 2023. Its projection is based on the premise that increased travel by large corporations and the rebuilding of long-haul international routes will make the recovery more resilient despite declining gross domestic product (GDP) forecasts and other economic factors could increase the risk of falling passenger demand”.


There are other encouraging ongoing trends as well.  From a technological perspective, airports are increasingly becoming space tech hubs, turning into g spaceports and vertiports. As an example, in Houston, spaceport integration has already begun. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a Spaceport Office which has so far licensed 14 spaceports. Furthermore, continuing trends in airport technology include the foray into using liquid hydrogen as an energy source to help in combatting climate change and global warming;  the use of artificial intelligence  for facilitation; and the “Digital Twin” which can effectively plan and determine where passengers, gates and planes should be located and directed. The Digital Twin is being used at Schiphol in Amsterdam, San Francisco International and Vancouver Airport.

The Digital Twin is a virtual replica of every aspect of airport operations and performance “to maximise efficiency and increase capacity in a more timely and cost-effective way”, as an article in the magazine Passenger Terminal World reports.  Its most effective purpose is to alert airports to anticipated problems on a 24-hour basis and flag operations staff at the airport so that they can obviate the threat and operational difficulty that could ensue. It also points to problem areas that could inconvenience and delay passenger flows, thus avoiding congestion.

Another useful purpose of the Digital Twin is that it can alleviate passenger stress.  An example cited is the airport and flight experience it offers before the actual experience, thus enabling passengers who are anxious to be more prepared when undergoing the actual experience.  One category that benefits from this platform is the autistic community.

The Digital Twin can also offer insights into the future.  For example, if an airport has an aspirational goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030, it can model the aircraft and on-ground vehicle movements as well as other activities on the airfield.  These models can be applied to machine learning that can reflect the most efficient way an airport can be run.   Even in the planning process of an airport, the Digital Twin could offer the best iteration as Schiphol has done in the application of building information management software to generate a 3D digital version of physical and functional characteristics of an airport infrastructure

On the economic side, Airport Economic Zones (AEZ) – which, according to Paul Woodley, a senior lawyer, are “ suburban areas where infrastructure, land use and economy are focused on the airport” – are increasingly becoming popular where the community around an airport has the airport as the focal point of economic and financial progress.  A major study conducted by Gatwick International Airport and a partner in July 2022 revealed that the airport could generate 8.4 billion British Pounds by 2028 through the development of an AEZ.  The same study envisions the creation of 50,000 jobs in the AEZ by 2028.

Another burgeoning concept running into 2023 is the “Freeport” – where customs duties and tax do not apply to goods that stay in the airport and are directly shipped overseas. An example is the East Midlands Freeport in The United Kingdom which encompasses three main sites: the East Midlands Airport and Gateway Industrial Cluster (EMAGIC) in North West Leicestershire, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station site in Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands Intermodal Park (EMIP) in South Derbyshire.

Paul Woodley explains that these areas are strongly supported by robust infrastructure comprising “strong existing road and rail freight infrastructure connecting them to all other parts of the country, including seaport-based freeports. There is significant room for growth across the sites, accelerating regeneration, increasing skills and training opportunities and helping to level-up some of the UK’s most deprived areas. The site development process will be managed by the respective landowners and any future development proposals will be subject to planning approval and public consultation”

The Regulator

States must formulate their own strategy on how best to regulate air transport in an year where the end of the pandemic is in sight. One starting point could be a Resolution adopted by the 41st Session of the ICAO Assembly in the third quarter of 2022.  States should strengthen their crisis management capacity, including by establishing a crisis framework and mechanism while ICAO should continue to collaborate with the  World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health groups, with other relevant aviation medicine and other relevant specialist medical organizations, with Planning and Implementation Regional Groups (PIRGs) and the Regional Aviation Safety Groups (RASGs).  ICAO should, while keeping close contact with its regional offices be on the alert for public health information from them while  working with the Air Navigation Commission, with aviation subject matter expert groups including such as the Personnel Training and Licensing Panel, and the Safety Management Panel to enable the sharing of information and resources for purposes of global harmonization relating to the prevention and management of public health emergencies.

ICAO should also develop an Aviation Health Management Plan by ICAO supporting implementation efforts of comprehensive management of health in aviation, by consolidating the various references to medical and health-related Standards and Recommended Practices in the Annexes to the Chicago Convention into a comprehensive repository for the management of health in aviation.


From early 2020 to date, we have had numerous lessons that must be learned if air transport is to continue in a safe and orderly manner in 2023. The first is that there must be harmonization in communication.  Timely exchange of information is crucial.  The second is that geopolitics should not interfere with civil aviation and respect for global harmony in  adherence to the principles of international aviation law.  There must not be repetitions of blatantly egregious breaches of established norms of international law. 

Two instances in this context stand out:  the first where Ryanair Flight 4978 which was operated  from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May 2021, while over the airspace of Belarus, was diverted to Minsk National Airport in Belarus on seemingly spurious grounds. The Boeing 737-800 which carried 126 passengers and 6 crew members was just 45 nautical miles south of Vilnius and 90 nautical miles west of Minsk when it was ordered to divert from its course and land; the second where  The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK, which is  a member of ICAO),  launched, without prior notification to the international community, two short-range ballistic missiles  22 minutes apart on a trajectory over its  eastern waters, seemingly in defiance of  the redeployment of an aircraft carrier by the United States near the Korean Peninsula, which had been in response to Pyongyang’s previous launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan. The launches were ominous in that they landed between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. 

As a sage once commented, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

2023- A Year to Revive the Ancient Wisdom of Sages?

4 mins read

Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems. Sun Tzu…The Art Of War

If 2022 was the year in which we misbehaved, 2023 must surely be the year we dust the tomes of past wisdom and seek some relevance and intelligence in our lives. The year past: of folly at war and talk of the use of nuclear weapons; threats of fire and fury; acts leading to economic dominance without any forethought or perception of consequences; pyrrhic victory by violent suppression of protests, can all be subject to cautious reflection and reference to the words of sages of the past.

In the context of the most serious situation in Ukraine, one is reminded of the words of Sun Tzu  (771-256 BC) a Chinese sage, philosopher and strategist who specialized in military wisdom and is credited as the author of The Art of War – a lasting repository of military strategy for winning a war – which is now considered not only influential in military warfare but also used as a manual for corporate competitive strategy.  Sun Tzu said: “ the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting; in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity; victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price; victory comes from finding opportunities in problems”. Sun Tzu also said: “if fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding… he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight… if you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles”.

We are still not out of the pandemic although there are signs of its abating. Sun Tzu in his Art of War posits “one must know oneself as much as one knows one’s enemy”. The problem is that, as Albert Camus reflects in his novel The Plague, we do not seem to know ourselves and our vulnerabilities and choose to ignore red flags not only in the face of epidemics and disease but also when confronted with other existential threats. Politically, grave and ominous threats that portend danger to the global community are ignored as minor irritations that will go away. Covid -19 taught us that we need determination, self-reliance and optimism in the face of hardship. We have to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary, that we could restore a sense of community to a world torn by conflict and that despite all personal tragedy, we have a sense of control over our own destiny.

Most importantly, with the entropic perturbations of 2022 – be it geo-political; economic; or social and communal – individually and collectively we have to get a better handle on our “reason for being” or the sense of direction, purpose, and dignity in our lives. Firstly, we must teach ourselves collective humility. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan, in his book Antifragile introduces us to the intriguing and well-reasoned concept called “Antifragile” – that any system which depends on predictability and presumption is fragile – and that “some things benefit from shocks and they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stressors”. According to Taleb black swans (which as we all know are a rarity) are large-scale unpredictable and irregular events which can either devastate those that are fragile and dependent on certain rigid stability or energize risk-takers and flexible persons into action.

Secondly, we must establish a structured and logically reasoned way to find our “reason for being” whether in the context of our personal lives or corporate existence and survival. For this, we have to seek the wisdom of Japan.  Often, we spent our time trying to climb the ladder of success. There is a Venn diagram – created by British entrepreneur Marc Winn in 2014 with four circles,  each with a statement: what you love; what the world needs; what you are good at?; and what you can be paid for? At the point where these four circles all intersect is the Japanese word Ikigai which stands for “reason for being”. Ikigai is similar to the French term “raison d’etre”.

Jeffrey Gaines, writing in 2020 said: “The concept of Ikigai is said to have evolved from the basic health and wellness principles of traditional Japanese medicine. This medical tradition holds that physical well-being is affected by one’s mental–emotional health and sense of purpose in life. Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano (2017) has said that Ikigai is a state of well-being that arises from devotion to activities one enjoys, which also brings a sense of fulfilment. Michiko further distinguishes Ikigai from transitory pleasure (hedonic, in the ancient Greek sense) and aligns it with eudaimonia – the ancient Greek sense of a life well lived, leading to the highest and most lasting form of happiness”.

In 2023 we must seek the fulfilment that Ikigai represents, whether we are political leaders or corporate employees; parents or progeny; professors or students; doctors or patients. Leon Ho says: “having a sense of purpose is a fool-proof way to a fully satisfactory life. It leads to ease in prioritization, strengthens morals and values, aligns all your life goals, and helps you stay focused. The clarity in life is only possible if you have your sense of purpose sorted”.

In 2023 we must be more aware of Sun Tzu’s teachings of knowing our limitations; not being impulsive in taking decisions; not overestimating or underestimating the serious business of living. At the same time, we have to be non-traditional, lateral thinkers who take existing usage and change the way things are. We have to see through the obvious and question the vertical thinking of traditional intelligence.  We have to upend conventional wisdom and predictability. In 2023, self-interest – both collectively and individually  – will keep increasing; fear will spread even further than at the present time.

There is no better time than now to follow the strategy of Sun Tzu and the wisdom of Ikigai.

2022 – The Year We Misbehaved

6 mins read

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

“Isn’t it really the first real world war we are living in, much more than the first and second world wars?” …Thomas Friedman


With the above quote Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman credibly claims that the two “world wars” in the twentieth century were not truly world wars as they did not affect the entire world but occurred in segments of the world, whereas Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the major disturbance occurring in 2022 – gave rise to the truly  first world war.   Friedman goes on to say: “In this seemingly “global war on air” almost everyone can either watch the fight, participate in it in some way, or be affected economically by it, no matter where they live”.

Granted. A few good things happened in 2022. It was a year where democracies around the world strengthened, and some autocracies stumbled.  The countries in the West grew more united than ever before in their resolve to uphold a rules based international order. China’s economy went down and COVID raised its ugly head spoiling for the autocratic rule of the country its egotistical forward march. A bewildered Russia was thwarted in its use of force  in Ukraine. COVID receded around the rest of the world prompting the World Health Organization to declare, in September, that the end of the pandemic was in sight. Both in aviation and affairs of outer space progressive steps were made, where, for example  the 41st Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted proactive resolutions for the future development of international civil aviation on the one hand, and the United States became the first space-faring nation to undertake  to cease its original intent   to test anti-satellite weapons and pledged  to encourage other major powers to follow its lead.

Regrettably these proactive trends were foreshadowed by a global trend of misbehavior during the year. 

Gross Global Misbehavior

On 22 February, Russia invaded Ukraine – a sovereign democratic nation which seemingly was minding its own business. Many would argue that this event was inconsistent with the fundamental rules enunciated in the foundation of international law contained in the United Nations Charter. Article 2.4 specifies that all Members of the United Nations must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.  While this principle can be considered relevant  to Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine on the one hand, Article 51 of the Charter can be invoked in defense of Ukraine which acted in self-defense.   Article 51 states that  nothing in the Charter must be deemed to impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council of the United Nations has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense must  be immediately reported to the Security Council and will  not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Article 51 gives the Security Council the power to intervene and take “necessary action” – which is further expanded in Article 41- which empowers the Security Council to take non-military measures in the first instance and the intervention of the Security Council  and further expanded in Article 42 of the Charter which stipulates that.  should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

However, the legislative impotence of these treaty provisions is made blatant  by the fact that such action as recognized in Articles 41 and  42 can be vetoed in limine by any permanent member of the Security Council (The 5 permanent members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).So much for that.

Elsewhere, in the United Kingdom political turmoil was taken to unprecedented proportions when the country saw three prime ministers elected by the Conservative party in just two months.  The first instance involved scandal and misbehavior during the height of the COVID crisis; the second resignation of the short-lived Prime Minister was due to feckless insouciance in economic and financial policy which upended the markets, rendering the country gravely unstable.   

Tension between the two greatest powers – United States and China grew. The policy statement issued in October under the Biden administration focusing on  National Security Strategy said in diplomatically frank and open terms: “China harbors the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit,” and the United States intends to “win the competition.” The policy statement was also impliedly alluding to Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea, its somewhat uncanny support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its many provocative and aggressive maneuvers and  efforts calculated to intimidate Taiwan, and its alleged theft of intellectual property in vast proportions.

Coming to the Middle East a far-right government which some claim to lead to an illiberal democracy was put in place in Israel which may cause justifiable trepidation in the international community in the context of the ongoing and intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue.  

One of the worst, and most egregious demonstrations of misbehavior occurred in Iran. “Morality Police” in Tehran proceeded to arrest Mahsa Amini – a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman visiting Iran’s capital city – on the charge of failure to cover her hair properly. She died in police custody. Mass protests erupted in September across the country, primarily led by women against this outrageous  killing. The signature cry of the protesters was “Women, life, freedom!” The political situation in Iran led to an  absurd claim by Iranian leaders who accused the United States and Israel of interference and misbehavior in engineering the protests.  This was  arguably with a view to shrouding the government’s political repression, corruption, and mismanagement of the economy. To make matters worse, the Government of Iran ordered the use of force against the protesters with a view to quelling the protests. It is reported that as many as 450 protesters had been killed on the streets by Iranian security forces by December.

Further East, on 24 December and in flagrant disregard and abuse of women’s’ human rights, the Taliban government ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to suspend employing women, again with the tenuous accusation that some female employees didn’t wear the Islamic headscarf correctly. The ban was an unfortunate and regrettable follow up of an earlier move by the Taliban authorities to ban women from universities.


On a global level one of the worst examples of human misbehavior is the failure to stand together on the environmental front, where climate change is one of three major defining megatrends of our time (the other two being the looming and portentous threat of nuclear war and the exponential forward march of the technological revolution). At the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP/27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which opened on 7 November 2022 in Egypt, The Secretary General of the United Nations  called the climate crisis the defining issue of our age. And the central challenge of our century.  He added that the world was on the highway to hell with the foot firmly on the accelerator and that it is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner .  The Secretary General called for “a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact.  A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal.  A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.   A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040” .

One of the greatest obstacles to combatting climate change at a global level is the lack of political will which can be put down to the irresponsible indifference of States.   As of September 2022 Only 38 countries had filed their National Adaption Plans .  COP/27 ended with the retention of the 1.5c goal (compared to pre industrial levels) and an agreement on a fund to compensate developing countries for losses and damage caused by the climate crisis. However, the conference failed to agree on concrete steps to wind down the use of fossil fuels.

With these goings on, we can only hope that the world will conduct itself more responsibly in 2023.

Christmas – The Feast of Light and Peace

4 mins read

Someone once wondered why in every manger displayed at Christmas there was a bright light on while the rest of Bethlehem was in pitch darkness.  Christmas reminds me of when the three wise men followed a shining star that took them to the newborn.  Christmas is the story of light, as is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, and of giving;  So is Deepavali, the festival of lights for the Hindus.

To me, the most significant symbol of the nativity commemorating the birth of Jesus is the light displayed in the manger innovatively by the creators of Christian imagery. 

Light is life against death.  Light is hope that we have against darkness; against the evil and danger that lurks in the dark. Would the Christmas of light come to us this Christmas wherever we may be?

On 25 December each year the world celebrates the feast of Christmas, when Jesus – also called the Prince of Peace – was born.  It is said in Isiah 9.6 : and the world rejoiced and cried out, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”  In other words, the spirit of Christmas should essentially bestow peace on earth and goodwill to all humanity.  The spirit of Christmas is also “truth” as mentioned in the Holy Quran – that Jesus stood for the word of Allah, or truth: records that “though Jesus is mentioned by name in twenty-five places in the Holy Quran he is also addressed with respect as: “Ibne Maryam” – son of Mary; as Masi (Heb) Messiah – translated as Christ; “Abd-ullah” servant of Allah; “Rasul -Ullah” – Messenger of Allah. He is spoken of as “the word of God”, as “the spirit of God”, as a “Sign of God”, and numerous other epithets of honour spread over fifteen different chapters. The Holy Quran honours this great Messenger of God, and over the past fourteen hundred years Muslims continue to hold Jesus as a symbol of truth”.

One interpretation of the words of the Old Testament and the Holy Quran is that Jesus – The Ruler of Israel – ruled through peace and truth.  This is so pertinent in the current context of the world – of fake news; disingenuity and self-service on the one hand and the brutal destruction of humans and cities on the other. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.

Once upon a time, in the lonely darkness of the mountain lived a little girl with her family, fearful of the secrets of the night which brought invaders who purveyed evil.  They were hiding from evil, with no food and shelter.  The cold winter chill was gnawing at their emaciated bodies and bones.  That night they came and took her away, far beyond this earth.  The snow was falling in thick flakes around her and the wind was howling, stopping every now and then as if to catch its breath.  She felt lonely and sad.  Some distance away, as if suspended in the sky was this white dove who invited the little girl on his back.

The dove rose
towards plumes of white cloud
searching the heavens
for children of God
On his way they  met a child
his face in smiles and eyes so wild
a mix of sadness and of joy
was stamped on the countenance of the boy
“Are you God’s child?” inquired the dove
“I am the child of eternal love”
“Pray why is’nt there peace on Earth?”
they inquired  with no mirth
“your world does not want peace, dove
nor do they want eternal love
the boundaries you have striven to make
do not admit of give and take
and only those who do suffer
from war and strife would prefer
that peace prevails for all mankind

The dove took the little girl far away from the darkness of the night, into the light.  The next morning the little girl was found dead at the foot of the mountain, ravaged by the evil visitation of the night.    

The purity of Christmas  gives  us solace from a world of inequity, corruption and evil. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event  as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.  Christmas is  a time for introspection; of self examination for self worth.  It is a time that all of us should  demonstrably show our  capacity to shed differences and work toward the common human goal of peace.  The Christmas season calls us to nurture our boundless spirit of giving, particularly to those in distress. 

It is recorded that Jesus talked of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places (Matt. 24:6-8).  This is part of human existence and an unfortunate reality.  In the case of the current pandemic, there is one word that will help the world and that is “restraint”.  Science advises us that we must restrain ourselves from succumbing to the temptation of celebratory gatherings at Christmas.  We must also restrain ourselves from flouting directives whether they be given by our employers in training sessions or by public authorities.  However, this is not enough.  There is one more word that is inextricably linked to our audacious hope of the return to global health: “responsibility”.

Christians believe that Jesus was born to redeem us from sin and the imperfections of social debauchery.  This is the message of Christmas.

We have cling to our audacity that the birth of the Prince of Peace will bring the World together in the New Year and from the ashes of a divided world will rise a united humanity with mutual respect and the abhorrence of self service among nations.   Emer de Vattel, in his 1758 treatise Droit de gens – The Law of Nations– enunciated this fundamental principle: “A nation then is a mistress of her own actions as long as they do not affect the proper and perfect right of any other nation – – so long as she is only internally bound, and does not lie under any external or perfect obligation. If she makes an ill use of her liberty, she is guilty of a breach of duty…”

Vattel’s statement meshes well with what President Obama said in his book  The Audacity of Hope where he says: “We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break”. 

Let us hope the child of eternal love will keep a light on that shines bright,  bringing us hope in the coming year.

International Migrants’ Day – Putting Things In Perspective

4 mins read

Our immigration system is a broken system that needs to be fixed. We need reform that provides hardworking people of good character with a real path towards citizenship.” ― Joe Baca

On 18 December of each year, the world joins the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in celebrating International Migrants’ Day. The theme for this year is “I Am a Migrant”, and IOM most appropriately conveys the message that the organization will focus on sharing the message that “migration is a universal phenomenon that has taken place in all cultures and societies since time immemorial”. The United Nations estimates there are 281 million migrants across the world. A migrant is “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of: the person’s legal status; whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; what the causes for the movement are; or  what the length of the stay is”. As Maxine Alleyne-Esprit, Communications Assistant for IOM Dominica (where celebrations are held this year) said:  “This year, on International Migrants Day, we choose to focus not only on the needs of migrants, but also on their values and active contributions to change, social progress, and resilience.  We at IOM are making a global call to end all forms of discrimination against migrants”.

On 18 December 1990 the United Nations General Assembly adopted The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) that is intended to ensure equality and dignity of all migrant workers now spread across the world.  ICRMW was adopted by the UN General Assembly through Resolution 45/158 without a vote on December 18, 1990 and entered into force on 1 July 2003.  It is the most recent UN human rights treaty to come into force. A migrant worker has been defined as “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national”.

Of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 11 are said to be relevant to the recognition of equitable and dignified treatment for migrants of which direct reference can be seen in SDG 10.7: “to facilitate orderly, safe, regular, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. Other targets directly related to migration mention trafficking, remittances, international student mobility and more. Moreover, migration is indirectly relevant to many more cross-cutting targets”.

In December 2020 193 States who are signatory to the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) saw the official publication of the  GCM containing 23 objectives, all of which resonated the central theme of the right of human mobility with dignity, in a safe, regular and an orderly manner . The GCM is non-binding on States and is respectful of States’ exercise of sovereignty over their territories and the sovereign right to determine who enters and stays in their territory. However, it remains persuasive by demonstrating commitment to international cooperation on migration. The GCM offers guidance on governance of migration and the various challenges that are faced by States in allowing migrants into their territories.  More notably, the 23 objectives of GCM are calculated to strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development. The Global Compact is designed to: “support international cooperation on the governance of international migration; provide a comprehensive menu of options for States from which they can select policy options to address some of the most pressing issues around international migration; and give States the space and flexibility to pursue implementation based on their own migration realities and capacities”.

International Migrants’ Day should make us aware that  the story of migration goes back 1.75 million years when Homo Erectus began moving from Africa to Australia, Asia and the Americas. This essential activity has been continued by Homo Sapiens for whom migration has been an essential human activity that helped populate the world in its entirety.

In the present context, migration has become a complex issue, as Yuval Noah Harari says in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century: “As more and more humans cross more and more borders in search of jobs, security, and a better future, the need to confront, assimilate or expel strangers strains political systems and collective identities that were shaped in less fluid times”. Professor Harari views migration as a bilateral and reciprocal “deal” between the people of a recipient State and the migrant, which has three conditions: the host country allows the immigrants in; in return the immigrants must embrace core norms and values of the recipient or host State, even if that entails giving up some of the migrants’ values and norms; and if the immigrants succeed in assimilating into their host societies and communities at least to a sufficient degree, they would be eventually be recognized as equal and full members of the host country.  In his words “they become us”.

This having been said, the often heard protestations against migration have been based on the fact that migrants do not fully integrate; they overburden the labor market and steal jobs that are the rightful claims of the natives; they muddy or corrupt long established local values; and create instability in local society and communities.  Whatever the merits of these fears are, the benefits brought in by migrants are claimed to override the concerns.  Giovanni Peri writing in Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies (Fall 2013) says:   “In the United States — and in many European countries — the foreign born have become a large and growing presence in the home services sector. Home services include cleaning, food preparation, and gardening, as well as personal services such as child and elderly care. These jobs are often characterized as “household production” services. The increased presence of immigrants in this sector has made home services more affordable, which in turn has allowed more native-born women — especially highly educated women — to join the labor force or to increase their hours worked…

Highly educated immigrants are a huge asset for the U.S. economy, which attracts scientists and engineers from all over the world. One-quarter of the U.S.-based Nobel laureates of the last 50 years were foreign-born, and highly educated immigrants account for about one-third of U.S. innovation. In 2006, immigrants founded 25 percent of new high-tech companies with more than $1 million in sales, generating income and employment for the whole country. Innovation and technological growth are the engines of economic growth in technologically advanced countries like the United States, where attracting and training new scientists and engineers is key to continued economic success”.

In a world that is currently over sensitive to human rights and human safety, the overriding consideration should be human dignity, which is the key driver for ensuring equal rights for migrants, most of whom migrate from repressive and destructive war zones, famine driven and drought affected countries, and places where employment opportunities are non-existent.  In this perspective the IOM has to be lauded in its dedication of this year’s International Migrants’ Day to   not only focusing on the needs of migrants, but also on their values and active contributions to change, social progress, and resilience.  The IOM’s global call to end all forms of discrimination against migrants is therefore both appropriate and justified.

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