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Editorial #8: On Space


This month, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Mark and Oliver Daeman travelled past the Karman Line for ten minutes of outer space orbit.  The New Shepard’s flight on July 21, 2021 marks yet another crack in the rapidly dismantling monopoly that nation-states have exercised on outer space exploration. The substitution of the monopoly of the nation-state with that of private capital however continues to preclude indigenous perspectives from narratives of space exploration. This month, at Völkerrechtsblog, our contributors Elena Cirkovic and Hilding Neilson write a two-part series how the Artemis Accords – signed by nation-states to regulate space exploration – must take into account indigenous ontologies and the preservation of indigenous knowledge as a key perspective. Cirkovic and Neilson argue against the transposition of terra nullius principles to celestial objects such as the Moon, and argue for a relational understanding such as the one that Indigenous peoples in the world have developed to elements of nature.

The principle of terra nullius is tied to notions of sovereignty developed by Western colonizing nations, which denies Indigenous peoples the ability to construct themselves as sovereign powers in the eyes of the colonizer. Sovereignty, stripped of the notions of relationality inherent in many Indigenous perspectives, becomes auto-cannibalistic, as argued by Vivien Wefringhaus and Maximilian Bertamini  in their piece on sand mining. Wefringhaus and Bertamini write about how unrestricted sand-mining is not only unsustainable, but also ends up altering the physical size of the territory, and hence, the range of a nation-state’s territory. In this instance, the nebulous concept of sustainability forms an awkward Gordian knot with resource sovereignty. Wefringhaus and Bertamini propose slashing through this by fundamentally reorienting our to economic and population growth.

This month, we also marked 70 years of the UNHCR and the Refugee Convention. Janine Prantl writes about how refugee resettlement continues to be a challenge. Prantl highlights how the financial dependency of the UNHCR on the three major donors of the US, EU and Germany has impacted the agency’s resettlement efforts. However, Alma Stankovic urges readers to look at the strides made by the agency in the last thirty years, and argues that the GRC has been applied in a more inclusive manner to a greater number of people than ever. Stankovic uses the example of Syrian refugees to show how the application of the GRC is no longer constrained by the doctrinal challenges posed by protection needs arising out of civil war, and is able to offer refugee status to Syrians who are escaping indiscriminate violence from all sides of the conflict.

While Stankovic’s piece is heartening, Fadel Abdul Ghany reminds us that Syrians continue to experience unmitigated forms of brutality in the conflict. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented that at least 131,000 detainees are currently under arrest or have forcibly disappeared, and calls upon the international community to take steps to hold the Syrian regime accountable.

On accountability, Völkerrechtsblog hosted a symposium on the Draft Definition of Ecocide. Anastacia Greene writes about the element of mens rea in ecocide, while Natascha Kersting writes about the definitional challenges involved in incorporating the crime of ecocide into the Rome Statute. Fin-Jasper Langmack writes about technocratic (and fun!) answers to the question of who is entitled to compensation, and Jelena Aparac examines the limitations of the drafting panel’s approach in addressing corporate responsibility. We also hosted a video interview with Christina Voigt, who is a member of the Expert Panel.

Lastly, as part of our Bofaxe series, we hosted a number of incredibly interesting and provocative pieces. Nadine Grünhagen and Vanessa Bliecke highlight the contradictions posed by disability-selective abortions with respect to State obligations towards reproductive autonomy on one hand, and non-discrimination on the other. Jana Rattay writes on the Tigray conflict and how actions by both Ethiopian and Eritrean forces can be characterised as ethnic cleansing. Benedikt Behlert writes about Germany’s treatment of migrant workers, and the limitations of general human rights treaties in addressing these concerns.

From movement across outer space to movement across international borders – our July posts at Völkerrechtsblog have attempted to use international law to answer some fundamental yet intractable questions about the future of humanity. We are excited about the questions and answers that we will encounter in the upcoming months.

Darshana Mitra

Darshana Mitra teaches citizenship and immigration law at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. She is an editor at Völkerrechtsblog.

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