A world fragmented by legalities

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Do we need universal international laws, asks NOEL G DESOUZA

The world might have become global in many respects: goods, services and people move across borders as never before; but individual nations and states have their own laws which fragment the world. Every Australian, American and Indian state has its own laws which may be radically different from the others.

Not all nations have transparent legal processes. Courts may not be open everywhere. One may not even know what is being tried in a court. Whilst China has become well-known for this, it can also happen in democratic countries under emergency laws.

President Obama has called upon China to play by the same rules which apply to everyone else. That would be just and proper, but then the question arises: whose rules? International conventions often fix the norms for such conduct. There are many such conventions to which not all nations are signatories and often some important nations like the USA, Russia and China might choose not to be involved.

The tribulation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in his desperate bid for political asylum in the Equadorian Embassy in London has opened the world’s eyes to the local nature of laws in a globalising world.

Who sets the world’s laws? For a long while it was Europe, particularly the European colonial powers. Europe, beset by financial crises is currently behaving as if it is still the world’s law maker, unbelievably! India got a taste of this when two Italian security men on a cruise liner shot and killed two Indian fishermen whilst sailing along the Kerala coastline.

The Italian Government adamantly claimed that it was their right, and not that of India to try those men. The Kerala Government then dug in its heels. The security men have been held for trial for murder despite a large amount of compensation having been paid by the Italians to the dependents of the two victims.

About the same time an Indian couple in Norway were deprived of their two children by the Norwegian welfare authorities as, it is alleged, the parents were feeding the children by hand and sleeping with them in the same bed. There was no transparency in the case under some provisions of Norwegian law. Vociferous demonstrations in India against the Norwegian Government resulted in an ultimate solution to the problem. The children were sent to India.

There has been very recently a state of panic in the northeast of India, disseminated through the use of calumnies spread through social media. This caused people from the northeastern region of India living in other parts of India, to move back to their original areas to protect their families.

There is strong evidence that social media has been used to foment the unrest, pointing to foreign sources. The picture was confusing. There were appeals from employers and others for people from the northeast to remain in their present jobs and homes. The Union Home Secretary RK Singh blamed elements in Pakistan for disseminating “inflammatory and objectionable” information about incidents of recent violence in Assam.

The geography of the northeast area makes it difficult for India to hold onto it, as it is linked to the rest of India by a very narrow land corridor. The area borders Bhutan, China (which claims a large chunk of it), Bangladesh (with its constantly changing river courses), and Burma. China often refuses normal visas to people from the area, to whom it only gives stapled visas.

The northeast area is a mix of a variety of languages, tribes and religions. Seven states have been carved over the years from the original Assam. States like Nagaland and Meghalaya, both dominantly Christian, have special laws to safeguard local interests.

In the residual Assam there is ongoing agitation for further autonomy and a demand for a state of Bodoland. Assam has 17.2 million Hindus, 8.2 million Muslims and 0.98 million Christians (last Census figures). This is very unlike the rest of India.

From Bangalore alone, India’s IT hub, 30,000 people are said to have moved to their original northeast home areas by special trains to Guwahati in Assam. The panic having been proven to be social media generated and grossly exaggerated, these people are now moving back to Bangalore.

The trouble which ensued should have been foreseen and steps should have been taken to prevent it. Measures are being taken in several parts of the world to deal with cyber wars which India, with its cyber expertise, is well placed to counteract. These should have been put in place well in advance for such an eventuality. Perhaps the lesson will now be learnt. Anyone migrating to a new country or state must learn its local laws. So must any company intending to do business there.

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