Trump targets ICC with sanctions over Afghanistan war crimes case

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations

Why in news:

U.S. sanctions on International Criminal Court employees.

Key Details:

  • The U.S. President has issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against individuals involved in an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into whether U.S. forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
  • The order authorizes economic sanctions and travel curbs against Court employees. The order authorizes the concerned authorities to block assets in the U.S. of ICC employees involved in the probe, and also block their entry into the U.S.

U.S. arguments:

  • Given the fact that the S. government has never been a member of the ICC, it claims that its citizens cannot be prosecuted against without the consent of the U.S. The U.S. administration claims that the probe threatens to infringe on U.S. sovereigntyby pressurizing American service members and intelligence officers.
  • Afghanistan, though a member of the ICC, has argued that any war crimes should be prosecuted locally.
  • The U.S. administration has stated that though the ICC was established to provide accountability, in practice the ICC has been unaccountable, ineffective over the years.
  • The U.S. administration has accused that the ICC probe is being pushed forward with the dubious objective of maligning the U.S. and accused Russia of having a role.

Background:

International Criminal Court:

  • The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC)has been set-up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
  • It was established in 2002.
  • It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself.

War crimes in Afghanistan:

  • International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and by the U.S. forces and the CIA.

The ICC decided to investigate after prosecutors’ preliminary examination in 2017 found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the ICC has jurisdiction.


Govt. considering universal basic income, says NHRC

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations

Why in News:

Mid-term report of India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Key Details:

Universal basic income:

  • One of the major recommendations of the UPR Working Group was to study the possibility of a universal basic incomeas a way to further reduce poverty levels with a view to possibly phasing out the existing social protection system, in full consultation with all stakeholders.
  • In its report, the NHRC has stated that the recommended implementation of a universal basic income was “under examination and active consideration” of the Centre.

Budgetary allocation for health:

  • The report stated that there had been a consensus on the need for increasing budgetary allocation for health and nutritionby the Centre and state governments.

Child rights:

  • The NHRC noted that it had found “gaps in policies as compared to obligations” under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Childand had made recommendations to address the same.
  • The report notes the National Commission for Protection of Child Rightsworking on a proposal for a pilot project to eliminate child labour in five “aspirational districts with high incidence of child labour”.
  • To make education more accessible to children with disabilities, the NHRC said it had recommended to the Human Resource Development Ministry to ensure “holistic inclusion” of children with disabilities in the Draft National Education Policy.

Reproductive rights:

  • On the issue of reproductive rights, the NHRC noted that the Centre had requested the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Financial Services, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India and the National Health Authority to consider the issue of sterilization, birth control treatmentand procedures’ expenses not being covered under health insurance policies currently.

Women’s rights:

  • The Report notes that the NHRC was in the process of setting up a committee to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

SC/ST related laws:

  • The NHRC has expressed concerns over the inefficiencies in implementation of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 and the Rules of 1995and warned States of coercive action against failure to submit reports on violation of human rights of SCs, STs and minorities.

Other issues:

  • NHRC claims that several issues need to be looked into including the “ratification of international human rights instruments, issues in legislations of trafficking and protection against child sexual abuse”and “gaps in the implementation of schemes for food security and timely disbursement of wages under schemes for employment”.

Additional Information:

  • As a part of the third round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which is done every four-and-a-half-years, the NHRC submitted its mid-term report to the UN agency recently.

The report reviewed the implementation of 152 recommendations of the UPR Working Group that the Indian government had accepted in September 2017.


Slum population most at risk, says ICMR

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why In news:

First sero-survey on COVID-19 spread by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Key Details:

  • The sero-surveillance study was conducted in 83 districts covering 28,595 households and 26,400 individuals by the ICMR along with other agencies in May 2020.
  • The sero-surveillance study has two parts. The primary task of estimating the fraction of people who have been infected in the general population has been completed and the second objective of estimating the infected population in containment zones of hotspot cities is in the process of completion.

Highlights of the study:

  • The sero-survey on COVID-19 spread notes that the urban slum population was most vulnerable to the spread, followed by urban settlements.
  • The ICMR has calculated that compared to rural areas, the risk of spread was 1.09 times higher in urban areas and 1.89 times higher in urban slums.
  • The study reveals that 0.73% of the population surveyed showed evidence of past exposure to SARS-CoV-2. However, ICMR has asserted that the country is not in the community transmission phase.
  • The infection fatality rate is very low at 0.08%.
  • Lockdown/containment was found successful in keeping the disease spread low.

Way forward:

Vulnerability mapping of densely populated areas should be done for effective containment strategy to be put in place.There is a need for increased testing.


Lion census method outdated: experts

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in News:

  • The results of the 2020 Asiatic Lion Censusestimate the number of Asiatic lions at 674, marking a 28% rise from 2015.
  • India has recorded a 29% increase in population of Asiatic lions, living in Gujarat Gir forest, in the past five years — from 523 in 2015 to 674 in 2020.
  • The period also saw a 36% increase in the distribution area of the lions from 22000 sq. km in 2015 to 30000 sq. km in 2020.

Population estimation of Asiatic lions

  • It is conducted at an interval of five years.
  • The first Lion Census was conducted by the Nawab of Junagadh in 1936; since 1965, the Forest Department has been regularly conducting the Lion Census every five years.
  • Unlike in previous years, this year’s count was estimated not from a Census, but from a population “observation” exercise called Poonam Avlokan (full-moon night estimation exercise)

Strategies and interventions implemented by State Forest Department

  • Community participation
  • Use of technology
  • Habitat management and increase in prey base
  • Human-lion conflict mitigation
  • Healthcare including import of vaccines after some lions were infected with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV).

Concerns:

  • A few wildlife experts and scientists have expressed doubts over the reported numbers based on the following arguments.

Outdated methodology:

  • The administration has used a 100-year-old method to count lions. This approach, called the Direct Beat Verification or Block Count method, involves officials from the State wildlife department observing the watering holes across the animals’ territorial range to count the animals.
  • Given the fact that lions can range as much as 700 sq. km, with the current method, there is the possibility of both grossly under counting or over counting.

Availability of fewer resources:

  • In normal years, alongside the departmental forest officials, there would be independent experts and observers from non-governmental organisations. Normally, about 2,000 persons would be involved and the monitoring would be done over two days.
  • This year, owing to travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, the process involved only 1,400 personnel. This lack of adequate personnel may lead to mistakes in the estimation.

CVD deaths:

  • Canine distemper virus (CDV) killed at least 36 lions in Gir, Gujarat in 2018 and the spread does not seem to have ebbed in spite of the government inoculating lions with an imported vaccine.
  • There have been reports of more deaths from the virus since January 2020 but no data about these have been available.

Challenges:

Limitations of newer methods:

  • Camera traps are not yet suitable for lions as they don’t have clearly discernible permanent physical features, unlike in tigers, which have unique stripes.

CVD:

  • About 60% of the lions are outside the protected area,and this number with an increasing trend poses a serious challenge to the government efforts of vaccination against CVD.
  • The virus is endemic in livestockand periodically infects lions so only large-scale vaccination of livestock in the region should be ensured.

Way forward:

Adopting newer methods:

  • Newer methods such as camera trappingand identifying lions based on permanent marks on their body, and statistical estimates based on the animals’ predatory patterns and numbers of their prey base — all of which have been used to count tigers — are more scientifically precise.
  • There is a need to consider newer methods that are practical.

First estimation exercise of Indian gaur in Nilgiris in recent years

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news:

The first population estimation exercise of the Indian Gaur carried out in the Nilgiris Forest Division.

Key Details:

  • The population estimation exercise has revealed that more than an estimated 2,000 Indian gaurs inhabit the Nilgiris Forest Division, with an average of eight individuals per square kilometer.

Concerns:

Proximity to human settlements:

  • It was noticed that a majority of the gaurs preferred to inhabit tea estates and human settlements, while the animals largely avoided forested areas.
  • The reasons for this could be due to the easy availability of foodin and around human settlements, the lack of threat from predators, and the spread of invasive flora into reserve forests.

Change in land use pattern:

  • The region is witnessing changing land-use patterns, with existing tea estates being converted into resorts and buildings.
  • This translates to fences becoming more prominent around these properties and severely limiting traditional pathways used by the gaur to move between habitats.
  • Habitat fragmentationremains a major factor in pushing the animals into proximity with humans.

Man-animal conflict:

  • The study notes with concern that the majority of the animals in “conflict-prone” areas in the region live perilously close to human habitations due to habitat loss and fragmentation, exacerbating the probability of man-animal conflict.
  • On an average, a total of 60 gaurs die each year in the Nilgiris Forest Division, many due to accidents related to living close to human habitations.
  • Major towns of Coonoor, Udhagamandalam, Kotagiri and Kundah have witnessed an increasing number of problematic human-gaur interactions in the Nilgiris over the last few years. In 2019, three people were killed and seven others injured by Indian gaurs.

Misguided notions:

  • The notion that more Indian gaurs are being spotted within the towns due to a steady increase in their population over the last decade could be misleading conservation efforts.

Way forward:

Relieving pressures:

  • The increasing human pressures have been leading to problems. There is a need to duly acknowledge this fact and ensure appropriate policy measures for conservation of the Indian Gaurs and eliminate human casualties.

Periodic census:

  • Further gaur census needs to be conducted in the coming years to accurately gauge the dynamics of the Indian gaur population in the Nilgiris Division.
  • There is a need to continue to conduct periodic estimationsto ascertain whether the population of gaurs is increasing or if the population is stable.