South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN)

The South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), an inter-governmental wildlife law enforcement agency, in its first-ever meeting in India, adopted many resolutions to curb wildlife crime in the region.

At the two-day conference held here from May 8-10, representatives of seven out of eight countries participated, and the members agreed on having an operational framework for strengthening the regional body to combat wildlife crime.

About SAWEN:

SAWEN is a regional network comprises eight countries in South Asia –Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It aims at working as a strong regional intergovernmental body for combating wildlife crimes by attempting common goals and approaches for combating illegal trade in the region.

The significance of SAWEN:

The South Asia region is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes due to the presence of precious biodiversity and large markets as well as traffic routes for wildlife products in the region. The collaboration in harmonising as well as enforcing the wildlife protection in the region is considered very important for the effective conservation of biodiversity.

How will it help India?

India along with other member countries will take initiatives to bring “harmonisation and standardisation” in laws and policies to conserve fauna and flora and will also document the trend of poaching, illegal trade and related threats to the natural biodiversity.

This will also strengthen institutional responses to combat wildlife crime by promoting research and information sharing, training and capacity building, technical support, sharing experiences and outreach and to encourage member countries to prepare and implement their national action plans in curbing wildlife crime.

Wildlife crime has emerged as one of the greatest threats to the survival of many wildlife species in South Asia as well as across the globe. This organized crime involving multi-billion dollars is highly trans-national and remains flourishing as a result of the weak legal framework and/or lax enforcement in the source, transit, and destination countries. Curbing the wildlife crime demands well-coordinated multi-agency and multi-country efforts with the high level of commitment and advancement.

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Inter-Country Child Abduction

A committee set up by the Centre to prepare a report on the issue of inter-country parental child abduction has questioned one of the basic principles of the Hague Convention by arguing that the return of the child to his or her habitual residence may not necessarily be in the best interest of the child.

The Justice Rajesh Bindal Committee was set up last year to suggest a model legislation to safeguard the interest of the child as well those of the parents when an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) marriage goes sour and one of the parents flees from one country to another with the child.

In 2016, the government had decided not to be a signatory to the on the ground that it can be detrimental to the interest of the women fleeing an abusive marriage.

Under the treaty, there is the criterion of “habitual residence” of the child, which is used to determine whether the child was wrongfully removed by a parent as well as to seek the return of the child.

The Committee feels that the concept of habitual residence is not synchronous with the best interest of the child. It is because returning a child to the place of habitual residence may result in sending the child to an inharmonious set-up as well as overlook the fact that a mother is the primary caregiver of the child.

The panel has prepared a draft law to safeguard the interest of the children, as well as those of the parents, particularly mothers. The proposed legislation lays down nine exceptions under which a child will not be returned to the country of habitual residence.

The important conditions under which a child’s return can be refused are — best interest of the child, domestic violence or mental or physical cruelty or harassment against the parent who fled with the child, the parent claiming the return of the child was not exercising the custody rights at the time of removal, and if there is a grave risk that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm.

The report highlights the importance of the “Indian family system” in ensuring the best interest of the child, seemingly to question the logic behind returning the child to a place of habitual residence outside India.

With the older generation of womenfolk being home-makers, the households have great caregivers in terms of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc., on either side. A child, even if he may have stayed in some other country, would never be completely uprooted from the country of his parents’ origin, who have families back home in India.

About Hague Abduction Convention:

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another. The Convention entered into force between the signatories on 1 December 1983.

The Convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence or wrongfully retained in a contracting state not their country of habitual residence.

The primary intention of the Convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court.

The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16.

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Inter Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority:

A government-appointed panel has recommended one window solution in cases of intercountry removal and retention of children, an official statement said on Monday.

The Committee, headed by Justice Rajesh Bindal of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, submitted its report on legal issues related to these two issues, recommending addressing the problems of parents and children involved.

Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority:

The Committee has recommended that the Government may establish an ‘Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority’.

The composition of the authority:

The Authority may be chaired by a retired High Court Judge, with Members from Legal and Social sector background along with representatives from key Ministries.

The authority has been envisaged to provide a one window solution in cases of intercountry removal and retention of Children.

The Authority may examine the inter-country cases of removal and retention of children vis-a-vis the cultural context, the merit of the case, and the best interest of the Child.

Over three crore Indians living abroad have cross-border marriages. When such a diverse family unit breaks down, children suffer as they are dragged into an international legal battle between their parents. Inter-spousal child removal is one of the most unfortunate outcomes of such breakups. Children are “abducted” by one parent and taken to a country with a different culture. This can be traumatic as they are also cut off from the other parent.

International Child Abduction Bill:

The Protection of Children (Inter-Country Removal and Retention) Bill, 2016 seeks to address the issue. The Bill is in consonance with the principles of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980, which seeks to protect a child from the harmful effect of wrongful removal and secure prompt return and reintegration of the child in an environment of his/her ‘habitual residence’.

The Bill defines ‘wrongful removal or retention’ as an act in breach of custody to a person or an institution or any other body under the law of the country in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention. The law will be applicable to those wrongfully removed or retained children in India who have not completed 16 years.

The Bill recommends the setting up of a Central Authority tasked with discovering the whereabouts of the child. The Authority will further act to prevent harm to the child, secure the voluntary return of the child to his or her habitual residence, exchange information relating to the child with the appropriate authorities of the contracting state, institute judicial proceedings in the High Court concerned to secure the return of the child, provide free legal aid advice, and make administrative arrangements for the return of the child.

The court can order the return of a child who has been wrongfully removed or retained in India and if a period of one year has not elapsed from the date of removal or retention. However, the one-year cap is not final. The court can order return if it is established that the child is not settled in his/her new environment. It can refuse to order return if returning would expose the child to harm or if the child, on attaining an age and level of maturity, refuses to go back, among other conditions.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980):

The Hague Convention is a multilateral treaty whereby the contracting states will have to cooperate with each other in expeditiously sending back the runaway parent and the child to the country of the child’s ‘habitual residence’.

It seeks to return children abducted or retained overseas by a parent to their country of habitual residence for the courts of that country to decide on matters of residence and contact.

The convention shall apply to any child, up to the age of 16 years who is a habitual resident of any of the contacting states.

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Ramsar tag likely for Sunderbans

The Sunderban Reserve Forest, a spread of 4,260 sq. km. with over 2,000 sq. km. of mangrove forests and creeks, is likely to be declared a Ramsar Site soon. Earlier this week, the West Bengal government gave its approval to the State Forest Department to apply for recognition under the Ramsar Convention.

The Indian Sunderbans, with 2,114 sq. km. of mangrove forests comprise almost 43% of the mangrove cover in the country according to a 2017 Forest Survey of India report. Other than the forests, home to about 100 Royal Bengal tigers, the creeks and river systems of the Sunderbans are also part of the reserve forest.

Apart from being the world’s largest tiger habitat, the mangrove forest in the Sunderbans is remarkable for the protection it provides to nearly 4.5 million people on the Indian side and another 3.5 million on the Bangladesh portion from tidal surge generated by cyclonic depression in the Bay of Bengal.

About one-third of the total area is used as a protected area for the conservation of biological diversity. In addition, the abundant fish and biomass resources – timber, fuelwood, pulpwood, leaves, shells, crabs, honey and fish – are harvested by local communities.

The Sunderbans is also a major pathway for nutrient recycling and pollution abatement. The biodiversity of the Sunderbans is also diverse. The delta has the distinction of encompassing the world’s largest mangrove forest belt with 84 identified flora species, of which 34 are true mangroves.

Sunderbans is a contiguous ecosystem spread across India and Bangladesh. Other than threats such as climate change, sea level rise, widespread construction and clearing of mangrove forests for fisheries is posing a danger to the Sunderbans.

The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Adopted in 1971 in Ramsar, an Iranian city, the Convention came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.

There are currently 26 sites in India recognised as Ramsar wetland sites of international importance, including the East Kolkata Wetlands also in West Bengal.

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South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF)

The South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF) has issued its seasonal outlook, predicting below-average rainfall over large tracts of South Asia during the forthcoming summer monsoon. The Forum was attended by climate experts as well as drought managers and flood forecasters to help contingency planning in the water sector.

The Southwest monsoon accounts for 70-80 percent of annual rainfall in most countries of South Asia. It is a key driver of socio-economic development and well-being in the world’s most densely-populated region which is regularly hit by devastating flooding and damaging droughts.

About SASCOF:

South Asian nations, supported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), have been conducting the South Asian Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF) since 2010.

SASCOF was established as a platform where meteorologists from South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries along with Myanmar, could discuss some of the common weather and climate-related matters.

All these South Asian countries — except for Afghanistan, which is located in extreme northwest — experience common weather and climatological characteristics, like Southwest monsoon.

SASCOFs prepare consensus seasonal climate information on a regional scale that provides a consistent basis for preparing national level outlooks. Such forums also serve to interface with user sectors to understand and enhance the use of climate information as orchestrated and supported by the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS).

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World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings 2018

Meeting of the Development Committee (DC) of the World Bank Group and the IMF and the Restricted Session of the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC) were recently held in Washington D.C.

The IMF Board of Governors is advised by two ministerial committees, the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) and the Development Committee.

The IMFC has 24 members, drawn from the pool of 187 governors. Its structure mirrors that of the Executive Board and its 24 constituencies. As such, the IMFC represents all the member countries of the Fund.

The IMFC meets twice a year, during the Spring and Annual Meetings. The Committee discusses matters of common concern affecting the global economy and also advises the IMF on the direction its work.

At the end of the Meetings, the Committee issues a joint communiqué summarizing its views. These communiqués provide guidance for the IMF’s work program during the six months leading up to the next Spring or Annual Meetings. There is no formal voting at the IMFC, which operates by consensus.

The Development Committee is a joint committee, tasked with advising the Boards of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank on issues related to economic development in emerging and developing countries.

The committee has 24 members (usually ministers of finance or development). It represents the full membership of the IMF and the World Bank and mainly serves as a forum for building intergovernmental consensus on critical development issues.

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Regional 3R Forum

The Eighth Regional 3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific is being held in Indore. The event will see the participation of around 40 mayors of cities around the world and mayors of more than 100 cities across India.

The 8th Regional 3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific is co-organized by the Ministry of Housing and Affairs, Government of India, the Ministry of the Environment of the Government of Japan (MOEJ), and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD).

The Indore  Municipal  Corporation, Government of Madhya  Pradesh,  and Confederation of Indian  Industry  (CII) have been designated as the City Partner,  Organizing  State Partner and Industry  Partner.

Theme: “Achieving Clean Water, Clean Land and Clean Air through 3R and Resource Efficiency –  A  21st  Century Vision for Asia-Pacific  Communities”.

In 2009, the Regional 3R Forum in Asia was established at Japan’s proposal as a platform for broad cooperation on the promotion of the 3Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – in Asia. After the fourth forum, the name was changed to Regional 3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific.

Members include central governments, international agencies, aid agencies, private sector entities, research bodies, NGOs and other relevant parties.

Forum members hold discussions on policies, provided support for the implementation of 3R projects in member countries, shared useful information, and are building networks for the further promotion of 3R initiatives.

Japan hosted the inaugural Regional 3R Forum in Tokyo in 2009 and has cosponsored subsequent Forums together with the governments of host countries and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD).

The Fourth Regional 3R Forum – held in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, in March 2013 – adopted the Ha Noi 3R Declaration ‐ Sustainable 3R Goals for Asia and the Pacific for 2013‐2023. It is a legally non-binding and voluntary document which aims to provide a basic framework for Asia-Pacific countries to develop measures and programs to promote 3Rs including a set of 3R indicators for monitoring specific progress.

The United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) was founded in 1971 as an instrument to help achieve the strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade.

Created by an agreement between the UN and the Government of Japan, its operations are supported by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA).

UNCRD’s vision is to achieve a sustainable living environment for all. Its mission is to assist developing countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development.

UNCRD’s interventions in developing countries are clustered under three main thematic interrelated and complementary areas of work – (a) Integrated Regional Development Planning; (b) Sustainable Urban Management; and (c) Knowledge Management.

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16th International Energy Forum (IEF)

The IEF Ministerial meetings are informal dialogues, at both the political and technical levels, aimed to improve policy and investment decisions, and through increased knowledge and experience sharing.

The meeting was held under the theme: “The Future of Global Energy Security – Transition, Technology, Trade and Investment”

The biennial IEF Ministerial Meetings are the world’s largest gathering of Energy Ministers who engage in a dialogue on global energy issues.

The International Energy Forum (IEF) is an inter-governmental arrangement set up in 1991.  It is based in Riyadh.

It serves as a neutral facilitator of informal, open, informed and continuing global energy dialogue among its members comprising of energy producing and energy consuming states, including transit countries.

There are 72 member countries of IEF, including India, covering all six continents, which are signatories to the Charter of the IEF. Its membership accounts for 90% of global supply and demand for oil and gas.

The Executive Board (EB) set up in 2002 comprising of 31 designated representatives of Ministers of the member states comprise the governing board of IEF.

It meets twice a year.

International Energy Agency (IEA) and Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are non-voting members of the Executive Board.

The EB is chaired by the Host State of the next biennial Ministerial Meeting. Currently, India is the Chair of the Executive Board of IEF.

 

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ISA and India sign the Host Country Agreement

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), signed the Host Country Agreement. The Agreement will give ISA a juridical personality and gives it the power to contract, to acquire and dispose off movable and immovable properties, to institute and defend legal proceedings. Under this agreement, ISA shall enjoy such privileges, applicable tax concessions and immunities as are necessary for ISA’s Headquarter to independently discharge its function and programmes. ISA shall be deriving its status, privileges and immunities as per Article 10 of Framework Agreement.

Background:

The International Solar Alliance is an initiative jointly launched by the Prime Minister of India and President of France on 30th November 2015 at Paris, in the presence of the Secretary-General of the UN, on the sidelines of COP21 UN Climate Change Conference. The main objective of ISA is to undertake joint efforts required to reduce the cost of finance and the cost of technology, mobilize more than the US $ 1000 billion of investments needed by 2030 for massive deployment of solar energy, and pave the way for future technologies adapted to the needs of 121 countries lying fully or partially between the Tropics.

ISA has presently four ongoing programmes: Scaling Solar Applications for Agricultural Use, Affordable Finance at Scale, Scaling Solar Mini Grids and Scaling Solar Rooftop catering to the needs of solar energy in specific areas.

The Framework Agreement coming into force on 6th December 2017, the ISA became the first international intergovernmental treaty-based organization to be headquartered in India. ISA celebrated its founding day on 11th March 2018.

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Africa’s big new Free Trade Agreement, Explained

As of last week, there is a new global trade player, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). On Mar. 21, 44 African heads of state and government officials met in Kigali, Rwanda, to sign the framework to establish this initiative of the African Union.

The AfCFTA will come into effect 30 days after ratification by the parliaments of at least 22 countries. Each country has 120 days after signing the framework to ratify.

This will be one of the world’s largest free-trade areas in terms of the number of countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people and over $4 trillion in combined consumer and business spending if all 55 countries join. Here are four things you need to know about the AfCFTA.

What is the AfCFTA and how did it come about?

It creates a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and business travelers. The African Union agreed in January 2012 to develop the AfCFTA. It took eight rounds of negotiations, beginning in 2015 and lasting until December 2017, to reach the agreement.

The A.U. and its member countries hope the AfCFTA will accelerate continental integration and address the overlapping membership of the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs). Many African countries belong to multiple RECs, which tends to limit the efficiency and effectiveness of these organizations.

The East African Community and the Economic Community of West African States have made some progress toward achieving subregional economic integration. But most RECs are underperforming, with a low level of compliance by member states, which has delayed successful integration.

What will the AfCFTA do, exactly?

One of its central goals is to boost African economies by harmonizing trade liberalization across subregions and at the continental level. As a part of the AfCFTA, countries have committed to removing tariffs on 90 percent of goods. According to the U.N. Economic Commission on Africa, intra-African trade is likely to increase by 52.3 percent under the AfCFTA and will double upon the further removal of non-tariff barriers.

By promoting intra-African trade, the AfCFTA will also foster a more competitive manufacturing sector and promote economic diversification. The removal of tariffs will create a continental market that allows companies to benefit from the economies of scale.

Countries, in turn, are likely to be able to accelerate their industrial development. By 2030, Africa may emerge as a $2.5 trillion potential market for household consumption and $4.2 trillion for business-to-business consumption.

Who stands to gain the most? African nations with large manufacturing bases, such as South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt, would receive the most rapid benefits.

What key challenges lie ahead for the AfCFTA?

The A.U. hopes to create a single common market embracing all countries in Africa. However, only 44 countries have signed the AfCFTA’s establishing framework to date. And just 30 nations have signed the Free Movement Protocol — signifying the free movement of people, right of residence and right of establishment.

The most prominent non-signatory of the AfCFTA is Nigeria, which has one of the largest economies in Africa. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari justified his decision by claiming that he needed more time to consult with unions and businesses to assess the risks an open market would pose to his country’s manufacturing and small-business sector. Buhari may be cautious, but it’s very likely that the prospect of a continent-wide market eventually will prompt Nigeria to join the AfCFTA.

The AfCFTA also faces the difficult task of fostering cooperation among a multitude of national and regional actors with trade interests that will diverge at times. I discuss these challenges in my book, “Innovating Development Strategies in Africa: The Role of International, Regional and National Actors,” where I argue that ensuring each country benefits and establishing strong compliance mechanisms are critical to success.

The heterogeneous size of African economies, the existence of numerous bilateral trade agreements with the rest of the world, overlapping REC memberships, divergent levels of industrial development and varying degrees of openness also pose challenges to the AfCFTA.

So what’s next?

African leaders have agreed to have the AfCFTA come into effect within 18 months. For this to occur, at least 22 countries must ratify the agreement formally. Some countries, such as South Africa (which has yet to sign on but is considering it), say the time frame may be too short, especially given the need for debate and negotiations within each signatory nation.

Countries and RECs still have to complete negotiations on competition, dispute-resolution mechanisms, intellectual property rights and investments, among other issues. They should also agree on regulatory frameworks for service-trade liberalization (to facilitate market access), submit tariff concessions schedules for trade in goods (specifying the timeline and nature of products that will be liberalized) and make progress in the signing of the free-movement protocol.

The final critical steps for the African Union will be to persuade the remaining countries to join, to create a secretariat to coordinate the implementation and to provide enough resources to ensure the AfCFTA’s success.

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