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Remarks by Secretary (West) at the 51st Annual Conference of the Indian Society of International Law (ISIL)

September 02, 2023

Shri Pravin Parekh ji, Senior Advocate and President, ISIL
Dr. Kamilline Pinitpauvadol, Secretary General AALCO
Shri Narinder Singh, Secretary-General, ISIL,
Executive Members of ISIL,
Students of international law,

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I commend ISIL for continuing this practice of seminal annual conferences, I am privileged to represent the Ministry of External Affairs, which has a special connection with ISIL - as does diplomacy and International Law, and both are changing. Disruption is all around. I will refer to MEA’s concerns in this time of disruption, and how India’s international law community may like to approach this phenomenon of change.

2. India’s diplomatic calendar has never been busier. G20, SCO, BRICS or BIMSTEC, to name a few of our engagements, which capture our concurrent and diverse interests. Atma-nirbharta or strategic autonomy, multi-polarity oriented, a net security provider, first responder, force for international good and future oriented are expressions that capture the spirit of India’s changing diplomatic priorities to meet fast morphing global challenges.

3. International law is also in a flux. It is not only about sovereign equality of States or prohibition of the use of force and protection of basic human rights anymore. Challenges like international terrorism, transnational crimes, illicit drug and human trafficking, money laundering, climate change, cyber-crime, corruption, health are other new main stream concerns for the international community. International Law now also needs to deal with a digital and AI future.

Distinguished Delegates,

4. Today, international law touches every aspect of human life. Due to rapid technological advancements, the world has become smaller. This necessitates the need for finding common approaches to counter problems of environmental degradation, cross-border terrorism, international trade, human rights and utilization of resources beyond national jurisdictions culminating into international rules. No country can afford to ignore international law.

5. Our contribution to the field of international law since independence is known. India has made notable contributions to various aspects of international law, including international humanitarian law, law of treaties, diplomatic and foreign relations, foreign trade and shipping, as well as human rights for substantial changes that have positively impacted lives of our citizens, as well as people across the world.

6. Being 1/6th of humanity and largest functional democracy in the world, India believes in the promotion of democratic values and processes. We have consistently played an important role in seeking international consensus to tackle major global challenges and foster international cooperation and collaboration.

7. As a founder member of the United Nations, India supports the purposes and principles of the UN, as embodied in its Charter. India has made significant contributions to implementing the goals of the Charter, and the evolution of the UN's specialized programmes and agencies.

Distinguished Delegates,

8. Over decades, India has urged the UN play a more effective role in pursuing a more equitable international order and an economic environment that is conducive to developing countries. India strongly advocates the process of reform and restructuring of the UN for it be relevant to the needs of its membership. Objective realities underscore the need for thorough-going and genuine UN reform: it is an organization that is over seven decades old; its membership has expanded by nearly four times since the Charter was signed; and 2023 is not the same as 1945!

9. India believes, and there is an increasing trend of thought across countries acknowledging that no reform of the UN will be complete without the reform and expansion of the UN Security Council. It is essential that the Security Council is expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. The inclusion of developing countries capable of global responsibility, will contribute to optimal decision making necessary to address the insecurity of developing countries. India has all the credentials and more to be part of a reformed UNSC which reflects the world today.

10. Friends, International law is seen from several perspectives. Some see it as reflecting Positivism, Liberalism, Constructivism, Institutionalism, Realism, Naturalism etc. What should guide us is - the Critical Legal Studies approach - a movement that challenges the traditional legal theory and practice and instead offers new intellectual histories for the discipline. This should be our inspiration. International Law and its practice also needs to break from the past in terms of dominance in rule setting.

11. As a developing country our perspective on international law is complex, multifaceted and dynamic. There was a time when we were disadvantaged in the international legal system due to lack of resources and bargaining power. Today, we can and should rethink and create space for an Indian perspective and approach to challenge the academic and theoretical constructs, and traditional power structures that have dominated international law with a built-in bias. This is a terrain where Indian diplomacy and our own International Law stakeholders will have to combine abilities.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

12. Allow me to now share how MEA has supplemented capacity building of international law in our country. I am happy to report that as part of our ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, in recent months Ministry of External Affairs organized events jointly with AALCO and the Rashtriya Raksha University. More than 200 diplomats attended the seminar on ‘Seven Decades of Indian Constitution’ organized by MEA in our Parliament. The seminar gave an insight into our deep democratic values and commitment to international obligations reflected in our constitution.

13. As the current president of AALCO, MEA organized a Seminar on Treat Law and Practice to disseminate best practices and capacity building for Asian and African countries with emphasis on information and communication technology. Similarly, to commemorate India’s presidency of the UNIDROIT General Assembly, a Seminar on UNIDROIT projects was held with domestic stakeholders to discuss UNIDROIT’s work in the development and harmonization of private international law.

Distinguished Delegates,

14. Let me reflect some thoughts on the topics of this conference. India is party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, a pioneering international convention in the fight for cultural property. States parties to this Convention recognize that illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property impoverishes cultural heritage and that international cooperation constitutes the most efficient means of protecting any cultural property. Trafficked Indian antiquities from our past hold immense cultural and historical value for the people of India reflecting their living heritage. Government of India is actively working to retrieve stolen/trafficked Indian antiquities by entering into agreements with many countries. For example, last July we were able to repatriate more than 100 trafficked antiquities from USA.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

15. International community is currently negotiating international instruments in diverse fields of international law. For instance, in the field of cyber law, countries are deeply concerned about the protection of data of its citizens which is under attack by unknown non-state actors across the globe. In order to tackle this issue, we have concluded international cooperation agreements to prevent such attacks and safeguarding the data of our citizens. Emerging areas such as artificial intelligence or cyber security where the technology or activities of non-state entities can outpace existing law also occupy our efforts.

16. As you may know, India actively engaged in developing norms relating to the areas of marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, which is now considered as a major milestone in the codification of Law of the Sea. This agreement allows India to explore ocean resources in a regulated environment, as well as projects us as a responsible maritime nation that conserves and sustains marine biological diversity.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

17. The international order is changing rapidly. In this scenario, I would like to propose that ISIL may contribute even more to our international law discourse by encouraging Research Scholars to address subjects like – Migration & Mobility, Extradition, MLAT, Insolvency, Social Security Agreement, Matrimonial, property, child custody, commercial disputes and FTAs and investment treaties. Further, emerging concerns like: Air and Space Law, Energy Law, Cyber Law and Digital Assets should also be their focus.

18. Importance may be given to Defence and security-related legal issues, Environmental law, Climate change, Law of the Sea, Water/River Laws, Agriculture and Global Health matters. Lawfare is also a looming threat and should be of particular importance.

19. To conclude, International Law involves not only negotiations and finalization of multilateral treaties, but also settlement of disputes arising out of India’s obligations under various multilateral and bilateral treaties. The process also involves domestic implementation of our international obligation. Hence, a big pool of international law experts, practitioners and arbitrator to match India’s growing international profile is required. I am confident that Indian Society of International Law, as in the past, will deliver.

20. I am confident that ISIL’s 51st Annual Conference will generate substantive discussions on the contemporary challenges of international law, and I wish your deliberations all success. MEA is open to engagement with knowledge institutions, think tanks, academics and writers from the international law space. If we find a proposition relevant and useful, I can assure you that we will reach out more than half way to you.

Thank you, for your time and attention.

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