Monday, April 9, 2018

4:37:00 AM - No comments

Torture, Detention and Human Rights as ‘compromises’ in the US-led War on Terror

The war against terror was the response of US and its allies to the atrocities committed by the September 11 attacks. According to the words of President Bush the expression ‘war against terror’ sounds like an expression of law and justice. In practice however there was a military response against countries with suspected terrorism. One of the main criticisms about the Iraq invasion was that Tony Blair and Bush did not possess sufficient evidence that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. However in the absence of such evidence other justifications were found: such as liberal intervention in the sovereign affairs of states that are unable to guarantee the human rights of their citizens. According to resolutions 1368 and 1373 the response was also justified as a right to self-defence.

During the conduct of the war on terror in Iraq there were many allegations against the US for violations of human rights, arbitrary detentions and use of torture. The Convention against torture requires that state parties declare torture as illegal, and are prevented from using claims to ‘exceptional circumstances’ as justifications for it. The preamble of the convention places the prohibition on torture in the context of human rights. The ‘inherent dignity of the human person’ is the foundation of the prohibition, but there are other sources that support this argument: Article 5 of the UDHR and article 7 of the ICCPR asserts torture as an international crime. According to CAT the definition of torture is as follows:

“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

– Article 1 (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984 entry into force 26 June 1987, in accordance with article 27 (1))

The war on terror redefined the meaning of torture raising problematic issues about the extent to which torture can be used in that ‘war’. One example was the use of torture in the American facility of Guantenamo Bay which accommodates a large number of war detainees defined as ‘enemy combatants’. An integral part of the rule of law is that the law applies to all equally but it seems that US has used international law as a pre-text to violate human rights. Unfortunately there is also no world authority that could make US accountable for crimes they committed in the cause of the war on terror. According  to Canadian commentator Michael Ignatieff ‘In American Exceptionalism and Human Rights’ (2005), ‘American exceptionalism’ is the idea that it is superior to all other countries by spreading democracy, and protection of human rights but US itself may not be subjected to scrutiny on the same matters by other states. Ignatieff argues this is moral defectiveness and a double-standard.

Amnesty international has argued that US was in breach of various international standards by continuing to hold the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Although there have been some releases from Guantanamo Bay, US had not admitted that it has human rights obligations to those who remain. This can be argued as a State maximizing its own self-interest. Many people in the US after 9/11 were traumatized. In domestic politics of the USA, Bush’s terrorism rhetoric appealed to nationalist sentiments of the masses that were supportive of the war on terror. At the same time there was an unreasonable spread of fearing Muslims sending waves of ‘islamophobia’ across continents.

Arbitrary detention is in blatant violation of the Right to a Fair trial embodied in Article 14 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights. US has made a derogation to this Article and it is also the article that is subjected to the highest number of reservations. The US in their arguments seek to distinguish the detention of terrorism suspects from arbitrary detention, by arguing that the detainees have been determined to be enemy combatants, outside the reach of ordinary criminal law. The main way in which these measures are given legal form is through presidential military orders. The US military commissions were not independent bodies but set up by the executive. The rules that determine the procedure of these bodies allow the use of evidence obtained by torture.

However within the USA judges have made attempts to reassert a balance by upholding the right to a fair trial. In Rasul v Bush, US Supreme Court ruled that federal courts can consider habeas corpus appeals made by foreign detainees in Guantanamo Bay. In Hamdan v Rumsfield Supreme court states the Millitary commissions set up by President Bush violated Article 3 common to all Geneva Conventions (relating to torture). Despite all of these decisions the US government also had the impertinence to attempt to redefine torture. US had argued that treatment that is merely cruel, inhuman or degrading, does not amount to actual torture.

US throughout the war on terror has not upheld the rule of law as they have seemingly tainted terrorists as not having equal rights as that of other humans. This distinction itself is discriminatory but politically justified. This must not come as a surprise because US during the Cold war also violated human rights under the pretext of containing ‘Communism’. The War on terror was merely an extension of asserting their dominance on previously soviet held regions. For example: Bagram a former soviet controlled airbase in Afghanistan was brought under US-control. US troops have operated a military detention centre there, known as the ‘Bagram Collection Point’. Ironically however US condemned human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein in a similar detention centre in Iraq called the ‘Baladiyat’. Yet they violated human rights in the same manner.

In conclusion terrorism is a sensitive topic and it can be used as a pre-text to violate international law through support from the people. It was argued that responses to terrorism appeals to nationalist sentiments of the people. When considering torture from a legal perspective, torture is not only a breach of human rights, but an abuse of due process and ultimately it is incompatible with the idea of the rule of law. Torture is thus an expression of power in its rawest and crudest form. Ultimately the state is the both the violator and guarantor of human rights.


Steiner, H.J., Alston, P. & Goodman, R., 2008. International human rights in context: law, politics, morals: text and materials, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Elliott, M. & Thomas, R., 2011. Public law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Convention against Torture. Convention against Torture. Available at: [Accessed December 4, 2016].
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Available at: [Accessed December 4, 2016].
Art, R.J. & Jervis, R., 1992. International politics: enduring concepts and contemporary issues, New York, NY: HarperCollins.

3:47:00 AM - No comments

Political Geography and Expansionist Ambitions: with reference to Mackinder and Spyman

A cartographer’s job to draw a map is to draw a map as it is: by modelling reality into easily understandable spatial information. A statesmen’s job on the other hand is to conduct a government within his/her designated territory. Ever since the advent of the idea of ‘nation-state’ and statehood, the most important aspects of statehood have been sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Territorial integrity under international law has denounced any imposition by force of a border change. States’ attempting to expand territory by force is deemed an act of aggression. However this sanctity is not always upheld or respected due to expansionist wars, geopolitically contingent issues and also dictatorship.

Expansionist wars

Mackindor (1904) devised the concept of World Island which consists of Europe, Asia and African continents which were the largest, most populous and richest lands of the world. The Heartland according to Mackindor lay at the centre of the world island. His Heartland Theory proposed that whoever controls Eastern Europe controls the Heartland: composed of the area then ruled by the Russian Empire. Spyman (1942) countered Mackinder’s Heartland theory stating that Eurasia’s Rim land or coastal areas is the key to controlling the World Island.  According to Rim land theory the rim land contains the Heartland. Whoever would control the rim land would eventually control the World Island and finally the entire world.

During the Second World war both Rimland and Heartland theories gained popularity and traction from Nazi Germany and during the Cold War by Russia. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 forced Germany and its allies to make territorial concessions for causing the First World War. The humiliation motivated Hitler’s expansionist agenda to re-define the world map as it was then by making the ‘lebensraum’ an exclusive area to habilitate ‘a pure Aryan race’ that he deemed has racial superiority to others living in Europe which included Jews, communists, homosexuals and the disabled. This area included most of Europe expanding to: parts of France including Alsace and Lorraine, Baltic States, Belarus, Denmark, Norway and Netherlands. (Evans, 2008)

Geopolitically contingent issues

The Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was a blatant violation of international law. (Gregory, 2004) Iraq had accused Kuwait of pilfering Iraq’s oil while (Cooper & Sadhiq, 2007) opines that competition in oil production was among other reasons. Iraq had previously invaded Iran in 1980 to annex oil rich Khuzestan Province. The invasion of Iraq by joint forces of USA and UK without valid and conclusive evidence for Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons was another point in history of blatant disregard for state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Persian Gulf region with its volatile climate is home to world’s single largest source of crude oil. (Ashrafpour, 2010) The area is also home to religiously motivated civil wars between Muslim sects of Sunni, Shiites and Kurds with extra-regional powers having vested interests in gaining traction for the resources. The call for a caliphate by Islamic terrorists has exacerbated the volatility of the region. Heartland and Rim land theories have isolated the Gulf region as important for expansionist wars, wrongfully so. This region has resources that are far more important than what the Baltic States offer. However to deem Baltics less important would also miss the point because several Baltic states were used as buffer states during the cold war to prevent the expansion of ‘ideologies’. For example Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were used by Russians to prevent liberal ideologies from spreading into Russian sphere of influence. Now these countries are part of the European Union which contained the spread of Russian influence


Hitler, Mussolini, Monarchs of the Gulf States, Putin, and Assad are among controversial autocratic rulers each in their own right waged war for conquest of territory. While the Arab Springs ousted many dictatorial rulers little did it solve sectarian wars in the Gulf-region. The looming threat of Islamic radicalism is ever prevalent. Existing dictatorships of Syria and Russia has not prevented the threat of terrorism. Syria today is an important proxy state to Russia and China [super powers that does not allow international intervention in internal affairs of Syria through vetoing UN resolution]. It is argued that Russia supports a dictator such as Assad to strengthen his own elective dictatorship at Moscow while Syria is used as buffer state to influence the Middle East. (Foreign policy, 2017)

In interpreting Mackinder’s theory we may argue that Marshal Tito of the former Yugoslavia could have been the most powerful man on earth after the demise of Hitler. However the disintegration of the Yugoslavia still led to expansionist movements. Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Russian annexation of Crimean peninsula to secure oil and natural gas resources are examples of parts of the Heartland and its peripheries being contested. Spykman’s theory is perhaps now more important to expansionist ambitions of China’s maritime strategy. China is on its path to dominate the seas with its One Belt One Road Strategy.

Kaplan opines the sea unlike land creates defined borders and has potential to reduce conflicts because even the fastest warships travel slowly giving more time for diplomats to negotiate issues and reconsider decisions. Since navies do not occupy territory the way armies do there is a better chance in 21st than 20th century to reduce military conflicts. Kaplan quotes British naval expert Geoffrey Till “if the postmodern age is dominated by globalization everything that supports globalization such as trade and energy deposits are fraught with competition and when it comes to trade routes 90% of all commercial goods travel by sea” Amidst such a backdrop of competition, Kaplan opines with reference to the disputes in South China Sea that peaceful seas may not remain so in the future.

In conclusion elective dictatorships, geopolitically contingent issues, and expansionist wars have led to a redefining of how we perceive the world. World leaders have altered territories through political alliances, integrations and disintegrations of States. Political geography of the world throughout history has been characterised by the race for establishing a land-based and sea-based hegemon. Mackinder and Spykman’s contributions into geopolitical ambitions cannot be ignored as they explain motivations for many important events that had devastated the world.  


Evans, R. (2008). The Third Reich trilogy. London: A. Lane.
Derek, G. (2004). The colonial present. Malden (U.S.A.): Blackwell Publishing.
Cooper, Tom; Sadik, Ahmad (16 September 2003). "Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait; 1990". Air Combat Information Group. Retrieved 17 April 2010

Kaplan, R. (2014). Asia's cauldron. New York: Random House.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

11:17:00 PM - No comments

Peace in Sri Lanka in a state of decadence : the problem of communal violence

YouTube link: Venerable Galkande Dhammananda Thero talks about communal violence in Sri Lanka. Courtesy : Groundviews, Walpola Rahula Institute

The Sri Lankan Civil War between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and Government of Sri Lanka ended on the 18th of May 2009. However we are still to inquire whether a military defeat of the LTTE was successful in bringing peace to the war torn island of Sri Lanka. In irenology (scientific study of peace) the concept of peace is defined as ‘absence of dissension, violence, or war’ (Stark, 1968) Sri Lanka, unfortunately is destabilized due to communal violence among different ethnicities.

Johang Galtung in his negative and positive peace theory refers to a ‘negative peace’ which is the absence of all violence while ‘positive peace’ deals with the restoration of relationships and creation of social systems that constructively resolves conflict. (Galtung, 1996) In Sri Lanka there is no zero absence of violence as witnessed by the recent wave of attacks against minority Muslim population living in certain parts of the Central Province. Certain religious groups and extremist nationalists have exacerbated ethnic tensions through acts of vandalism and intimidation.

The ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka has largely to do with the inability of certain nationalist groups to constructively engage with the minority question in Sri Lanka. 74.9 % of Sri Lankan population is Sinhalese while 11.2 % is Tamil and 9.2% Muslim. In total there are identified 19 ethnicities in Sri Lanka. The main cause for the Civil War was the sizeable Tamil population in ethnically polarized regions of North and North Eastern Provinces rebelling to achieve self-determination. The Tamils who are a minority in Sri Lanka want more political power and participation in governance with the opposition of nationalist Sinhalese. This is because the Sinhalese themselves believe they are a minority in the Indian Subcontinent. Arguably in Sri Lanka, everybody has a minority complex.

Although moderate Sinhalese have cultivated more tolerant views of ethnic and religious harmony not all think alike. Tolerance is a virtue developed through education and also by self-cultivated and self-nurtured opinions developed through interactions with various different ethnic groups. However the potency of extreme nationalism is not only a problem in Sri Lanka but was the cause for disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and in modern times one of the causes of anti-globalization sentiments elsewhere in the world. Political leaders such as Donald Trump of the USA through terrible leadership have promulgated ‘islamophobhia’ and hatred towards Muslims. This wave of islamophobia can be seen in the recent attacks against minorities in Sri Lanka. There is visible discrimination based on ethnicity and religion witnessed by attacks on Mosques and places of worship.

The response of the government of Sri Lanka towards handling the communal violence problem has been subjected to ridicule by the learned community in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The government had decided to temporarily block social media platforms. This is because Social Media in Sri Lanka has been misused by certain parties to spread false news and allegations to spew venom and hatred among ethnicities. This has led to escalated online violence and hate speech. The government should instead devise long-term and short-term goals to develop constructive relationships among different ethnicities to enable positive peace in the country.

Temporary absence of violence in online spheres may have been achieved marginally but ethnic tensions prevail and will prevail if extremist groups are not legally dealt with. The paralysis of the Sri Lankan government in addressing vital issues may ultimately reflect the education levels, and lack of secular governance of policy makers themselves. It has been identified that people who had engaged in racist social media posts, online hate speech, and acts of vandalism have questionable levels of education themselves. In this light a thorough revision of minority rights education in civic sciences, religions and cultures in Sri Lanka should be included in educational reforms.

In conclusion, extremist religious elements involved in the recent ethnic conflict have demonstrated their lack of a sound understanding of the professed religion itself. Religious tolerance according to the teachings of Lord Buddha was a source of Marvel to the Western Civilization. According to James Freeman Clarke in Ten Great Religions (1871): "The Buddhists have founded no Inquisition; they have combined the zeal which converted kingdoms with a toleration almost inexplicable to our Western experience." Today our great Buddhist mob leaders have subjected this zeal to utter ridicule. The Western admirers of the ‘Great Buddhist Nation of Sri Lanka’ cannot be more amused with the turn of events. It is time that we restore positive peace in Sri Lanka by restoring positive relationships, religious tolerance and a broad-based system of education more akin to the values that were once greatly admired.


10:41:00 PM - No comments

Post War Foreign Policy Challenges of Sri Lanka

Access Full Paper here : Post War Foreign Policy Challenges of Sri Lanka

Foreign policy is important in understanding the behavior of states towards other states and a tool that a nation employs for promotion of its national interests abroad. Foreign policy considers the external behavior of a state. Heartman describes foreign policy as “a systematic state of deliberately selected national interests”. Sri Lanka‟s foreign policy has evolved over six decades since Sri Lanka‟s independence in 1948. Foreign policy of Sri Lanka can be considered under these  phases: Post independence foreign policy (1948-1972), from (1972-2009) during the first and second republican changes and finally the post war phase (post 2009)

Throughout a major  part of history Sri Lanka's foreign policy had been built on the principles of 'non alignment' “(i) independent policy based on peaceful co-existence and non-alignment (ii) it should have consistently supported movements for national independence (iii) it should not be a member of multi-lateral military alliances (iv) if it had conceded military bases these concessions should not have been made in the context of great power conflicts (v) If it were a member of a bi-lateral or regional defense agreement, this should not be in the context of great power conflicts The purpose of establishing the non-aligned movement was not to join the cold war rivals but to become a positive form in the international community along the principles mentioned above.

Sri Lankan Foreign policy post 1956 was non-alignment which was a decision by the foreign policy makers at the time taking the global security environment into consideration which was the power rivalries of the cold war. By 2015 there is no such global security climate since the Cold War was over with the dismantling of the USSR in the late 1990s. By the 2000s the pressing issues around the world was the rise of terrorism as evidenced by the September 11 attacks of the World Trade Centre in USA. Countries since then were gathering intelligence and engaging in various activities to combat terrorism.

The issue of Sri Lanka since the 1980s were the Tamil insurgencies in the North and East provinces. The minority population residing therein were demanding a separate state which was backed by Tamil Nadu. As the war progressed the LTTE came to be recognized as a terrorist organization which engaged in forcibly conscripting child soldiers and encouraging suicide bombers. The government was combating this terrorist group and the foreign relations with other countries were largely encouraging them to aid the government with military assistance to crush the LTTE.

The pressing issue during the period of the war in Sri Lanka was that there were external pressures internationally that a ceasefire had to be made so that assistance can be provided to civilians in the North in terms of basic needs such as health, sanitation and nutrition. Fighting off all these external pressures Sri Lanka proceeded to militarily defeat the LTTE. Following the War the external pressures were in the form of human rights allegations brought against the government by the political parties in the North and East backed by the members of the Diaspora. Countries such as the US, UK, EU, India supported such allegations.

Sri Lanka today is balancing the external pressures attempting to address human rights allegations through institutional reform while also attempting to develop the country economically through trade relations with the above mentioned countries to foster good and friendly relations. However there are also various criticisms with regards to the concerns of great power politics and its effects on the country‟s foreign policy

Friday, January 19, 2018

6:37:00 AM - No comments

India’s Foreign Policy and Attitudes towards Arms Control and Disarmament

Abdul Kalam: advocate for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons

India and Pakistan were created as two states in 1949 due to ideological differences after gaining independence. India and Pakistan has been engaged in a border dispute concerning Kashmir since independence due to fundamental ideological and political differences; the very reasons for creation of two separate states. This gave birth to the two nation theory that Muslim people and Hindu people cannot live to together governed under one country; that they are two nations. India is still reluctant to accept that Pakistan is another State because India boasts a secular and plural state while Pakistan was envisioned to be united under the Muslim faith. Due to these differences the foreign policy of India has been characterized by coercion and deterrence rather than negotiation and reassurance to promote national interests and achieve security goals. Thus, their foreign policy towards arms control and disarmament has been rather ambiguous since  the inception of their nuclear program. 

Today at the domestic level in India there is a significant Muslim population and many other ethnicities with different socio-cultural and linguistic values. However there are still secessionist movements internally such as maoist-naxalite insurgencies, Tamil Nadu issue etc. The Bangladesh War of Independence or the Bangladesh Liberation War was an armed conflict between West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) that resulted in Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan. Pakistan was the first modern-state founded solely on the basis of religion but Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s dream of creating a separate state for Muslims failed when East Bengal was included in the partition as they began their own linguistic-cultural opposition movement to create a new state of Bangladesh for Bengali peoples. 

India fears Pakistan but is supportive of the Bangladeshi movement as a means of deterrence on Pakistan. Although Pakistani military capabilities are not on the same level as India, it utilizes state sponsored terrorism to gain a military advantage through unorthodox means. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is accused of providing help to the Taliban and rebels in Kashmir. It is generally accepted albeit without concrete proof that Pakistan is playing both sides working against terrorism and sponsoring it.
[i]Below is a comparison of military capabilities of India and Pakistan.
Total Military Personnel
Defense Budget
Total Aircraft
Attack aircraft
Tank Strength
Total Naval Strength

Against this background of conflict between India and Pakistan we see that neither India nor Pakistan has signed or ratified the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). India has advocated for nuclear disarmament since independence but due to tensions between India and Pakistan neither country has vehemently opposed acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the first leader of India to be public and vocal about global nuclear disarmament but he proposed nuclear tests and considered that there is a role of nuclear deterrence for Indian national security and thus went ahead with nuclear tests. India’s secret service was in fact entrusted with the task of keeping the nuclear program a secret from the world. RAW was successful in keeping the nuclear program a secret from other intelligence agencies of powerful countries such as USA, China and Pakistan. The nuclear device which was a 15-kiloton plutonium device was tested at Pokhran on 18th May 1974. 

Article VI of NPT states “each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith of effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. However USA and Russia has not openly opposed India’s nuclear program and some form of tacit acceptance was made to accept India and Pakistan as nations with nuclear capabilities after the failure of negotiations of Partial Test Ban Treaty, and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

India has been given a waiver from Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 – which was a 48 member cartel group made in response for the nuclear test in 1974. There is a criticism that this waiver through an international platform has been conducive to provide India with the status of a nuclear weapon state consolidating its status in the international nuclear order. This is controversial given that India has not signed the NPT. Nuclear disarmament and nuclear acquisition of India also represented geopolitically contingent issues in the Indian Subcontinent. China fears the rise of India and the sentiment is mutual (vice versa) and thus to deter India, China has been actively helping Pakistan develop its nuclear program.

It is agreed upon by the international community that the veto powers who are recognized as already possessing nuclear powers are prohibited from helping other states acquire nuclear powers unless it is for benign purposes such as electricity generation. However this exception seems to be a pretext for countries to obtain nuclear weaponry to deter their enemies such as in the case of India. This can be evidenced through this quote: “The world has today 546 nuclear plants generating electricity. Their experience is being continuously researched, and feedback should be provided to all. Nuclear scientists have to interact with the people of the nation, and academic institutions continuously update nuclear power generation technology and safety” [ii]A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

As mentioned above India has notably participated in disarmament dialogues debating the morality of acquiring nuclear weapons and the destruction it may cause but has pursued the goal of acquiring them under other pretexts [electricity generation, technology development]. In a 2010 speech, then national security advisor Shivshankar Menon described India’s nuclear doctrine as “no first use against non-nuclear weapon states”- however by implication this means that India could use nuclear capabilities against another State with nuclear capabilities [perhaps referring to Pakistan intending deterrence] Thus in summary India’s attitudes towards arms control and disarmament under foreign policy goals take the stance of national security at the forefront and the need to deter Pakistan to maintain a balance of power in the Indian Subcontinent.

[ii] Played a major role in India’s acquisition of nuclear powers and has authored the following books : Ignited minds unleashing the power within India, Mission India, Envisioning an empowered Nation.
References used for authoring the chapter can be accessed via :