How a Unanimous US Supreme Court Victory is Helping to Change the US Military’s Culture of Sexual Assault

BY: Paris Nguyen

Paris is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service majoring in International Politics. He is a line editor for the Georgetown University Undergraduate Law Review.

In a 2019 study on sexual misconduct in the military conducted by the Department of Defense, accountability and discipline were identified as crucial factors that were vital to a positive work culture. Holding service members liable for their actions and enforcing punishment led to a more structured and positive environment while tolerating negative behaviors created harmful working environments.[1] Surveys conducted in the study further revealed that senior leadership had a history of ignoring infractions concerning sexual harassment.[2] Some individuals did not even believe those infractions were inappropriate.[3] By ignoring any cases of sexual harassment, the leadership within the military effectively normalized the inappropriate behavior. This creates a toxic military culture that weakens the “zero tolerance” policy of the armed forces. Since 2012, the number of reported sexual assaults within the US military has rapidly increased and reached an all-time high of 6,236 cases in 2019.[4] Even more alarming is the fact that this number fails to account for the unreported assaults and cases involving civilians or foreign nationals. The US military has a clear problem with sexual assault that stems from its culture of complacency towards offenders, and unfortunately, there exists no easy solution to this issue. However, the recent Supreme Court case of United States V Briggs (2020) serves as a small step in the right direction by holding offenders and leaders accountable for their actions. 

In February of 2014, LtCol Michael Briggs (USAF) was court-martialed in violation of Article 120(a), Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), for raping Airman First Class DK, a subordinate of his flight squadron.[5] The violation itself occurred in 2005, eight years before the court-martial. Under the current UCMJ, the statute of limitations for the majority of offenses is five years. However, military offenses, “punishable by death, may be tried and punished at any time without limitation.” under Article 43(a).[6] Rape is one of 14 offenses still punishable by death under the UCMJ today. Therefore, the case moved forward resulting in a military judge finding Briggs guilty of rape and sentencing him to dismissal from the Air Force, five months imprisonment, and a reprimand.[7]

Contrary to the UCMJ, Coker V Georgia (1977) established that the death penalty cannot be administered for cases of rape under the 8th amendment.[8] Using this precedent, Briggs took the case to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) arguing that the five-year statute of limitations should apply since only offenses punishable by death can be tried indefinitely under UCMJ. The CAAF overturned the Court Martial concluding that “punishable by death” in Article 43(a) of the UCMJ meant “capable of punishment by death when all applicable law is taken into account.”[9] Since Coker V Georgia was an “applicable law,” the case of Briggs was therefore subject to the five-year statute of limitations. The case was dismissed by the CAAF, and Briggs faced no consequences for his actions.

The US appealed this case to the Supreme Court and was granted certiorari on November 15, 2019. In an 8-0 decision, the CAAF’s ruling was overturned enabling the Air Force to reinstate the original Court Martial. In the opinion of the court, led by Justice Alito, he stated that the “punishable by death” statute of limitation exception in the UCMJ is a “term of art… defined by the specification of the punishments set out in the penalty provisions of the UCMJ.”[10] A “term of art” is a phrase that has a precise, specialized meaning.[11] In this case, the specialized meaning of “punishable by death” is tied to the UCMJ, not “all applicable law” as argued by Briggs.

Justice Alito cited three reasons for this decision. First, the UCMJ is the most natural referent for deciding what is “punishable by death,” not other external bodies of law [ie. Coker v. Georgia]. And offenses “punishable by death” includes rape under UCMJ.[12] Second, adopting an interpretation of “punishable by death” that applies “all applicable law” would create a “statute of limitations that no one could have understood with any real confidence.”[13] Essentially, applying “all applicable law” to decide whether rape is punishable by death in the case of Briggs creates numerous other unresolved and complex Constitutional questions. Lastly, because the purpose of the five-year statute of limitations in the UCMJ enacted by Congress is different from the purpose of the Eighth Amendment, the relation between the UCMJ Statute of Limitation and the eighth amendment should be taken lightly.[14] This means that the Eight Amendment should not be relied upon in this case as Briggs had done. In short, the Court believed that “punishable by death” was a term of art that allows the case to be prosecuted indefinitely under UCMJ. 

The decision in United States V Briggs effectively closed the statute of limitations loophole utilized by other offenders to avoid prosecution. In 2000, Master Sgt Richard Collins violently raped Harmony Allen, a military technician. It was not until 2017 that Collins was convicted and sentenced to 16.5 years behind bars only to be released after the CAAF’s ruling on Briggs. Collins, like Briggs, had his charges dropped and walked away facing zero consequences for his actions.[15] Instances such as Briggs and Collins initially escaping justice are detrimental to the US military’s efforts to combat sexual assault because it reaffirms the lack of accountability and leadership within the military justice system and further normalizes the acceptability of sexual assault. Furthermore, it deters current and future victims from coming forward to report their assaults because they rightfully believe that not much will occur after a report is made. By reversing the CAAF’s decision, the Supreme Court helped combat the current culture of sexual assault by enabling the military to prosecute any other offenders who utilized the statute of limitations loophole. This in turn helps restore faith in the military justice system by demonstrating that offenders will face consequences for their actions. Hopefully, this will lead to more victims feeling confident enough to speak up and hold offenders accountable. In addition, as concluded by the DOD study, the accountability and discipline that emerged from the decision help to create a more structured and positive work culture. While the decision in US v. Briggs alone cannot prevent further incidents of sexual assault from occurring, it serves as a small victory in the larger battle against the current culture of sexual assault in the US military.

When asked about the military’s rampant sexual assault problem, Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated that “We need cultural change, where every service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims’ privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice.”[16] This necessary culture change can only begin by holding individuals accountable for their actions to demonstrate that sexual assault will not be tolerated within the US military.

[1]Department of Defense. 2019. Military Service Gender Relations Focus Groups Overview Report. [online] Available at:

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Department of Defense. 2020. Annual Report on Sexual Assault In The Military. [online] Available at:

[5] United States v. Briggs, No. 16-0711-AF (C.A.A.F 2019)

[6] Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U. S. C. § 843(a) (2006)

[7] United States v. Briggs, No. 16-0711-AF (C.A.A.F 2019)

[8] Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977)

[9] United States v. Briggs, No. 16-0711-AF (C.A.A.F 2019)

[10] United States v. Briggs, 592 U.S. 1 (2020)

[11] Term of Art, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary. (11th ed. 2020)

[12] United States v. Briggs, 592 U.S. 1 (2020)

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Catherine Valentine, Et. al, Loophole lets convicted military rapists walk free; victim shares her story, Knoe News. (May 14, 2019)

[16] Jim Garamone, SecDef calls for culture of dignity, respect, Am. Forces Press Service. (May 8, 2013)

The Guantanamo Veil: The Right of Habeas Corpus to Detainees Under the Jurisdiction of the United States

BY: Karan Balaji

Karan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service studying international political economy. He is currently an editorial assistant for the Georgetown University Undergraduate Law Review.

Since the War on Terror was launched by the United States in response to the tragic attacks of 9/11, the treatment of suspected terrorists has become a widely-debated legal issue. One particular question stands out—should prisoners held in the U.S. naval base of Guantanamo Bay have the right to habeas corpus? In other words, do these detainees reserve the right to challenge the legality of their restraint by another entity? I argue here that these prisoners not only deserve the right to habeas, but that habeas must be granted to anyone detained within the jurisdiction of the United States.

To understand why prisoners detained on soil under United States jurisdiction do reserve the right to habeas, it is necessary to compare the decision-making behind two landmark cases regarding habeas and national jurisdiction— Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. (1950), and Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004). In Eisentrager, the Court dismissed a petition for habeas corpus by twenty-one German detainees, stating that the respondents’ detainments did not lie within the bounds of the United States’ federal courts’ jurisdiction. Rasul ruled in favor of detainees in the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay petitioning for habeas, ruling that the base was within the jurisdiction of the United States, where habeas rights could be applied.

The Rasul Court states:

“The United States occupies the base, which comprises 45 square miles of land and water along the southeast coast of Cuba, pursuant to a 1903 Lease Agreement executed with the newly independent Republic of Cuba … “the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the United States . . . the United States shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas.” In 1934, the parties entered into a treaty providing that, absent an agreement to modify or abrogate the lease, the lease would remain in effect “[s]o long as the United States of America shall not abandon the . . . naval station of Guantanamo.” Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 471 (2004).

The Court explicitly acknowledges that the United States could exercise “complete jurisdiction and control” over the leased areas provided by the lease agreement with Cuba, over which the Guantanamo Bay naval base exists. Not only does the United States exercise jurisdiction over the territory in which Guantanamo detainees are currently being held, as per the lease agreement, but after 1934, the United States could exercise such jurisdiction in perpetuity as the lease would “remain in effect” until the United States withdrew from the naval base. Id., at 471.

In order to dismiss the petition for habeas filed by the twenty-one respondents in Eisentrager, the Court resorts to a six-part test to determine whether the detainees are constitutionally entitled to sue for habeas. The Court states:

“We are here confronted with a decision whose basic premise is that these prisoners are entitled, as a constitutional right, to sue in some court of the United States for a writ of habeas corpus. To support that assumption, we must hold that a prisoner of our military authorities is constitutionally entitled to the writ, even though he (a) is an enemy alien; (b) has never been or resided in the United States; (c) was captured outside of our territory and there held in military custody as a prisoner of war; (d) was tried and convicted by a Military Commission sitting outside the United States; (e) for offenses against laws of war committed outside the United States; (f) and is at all times imprisoned outside the United States. We have pointed out that the privilege of litigation has been extended to aliens, whether friendly or enemy, only because permitting their presence in the country implied protection. No such basis can be invoked here, for these prisoners at no relevant time were within any territory over which the United States is sovereign, and the scenes of their offense, their capture, their trial and their punishment were all beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.” Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 777-778 (1950).

The Court also mentions that “in extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act,” stating, however, that war “exposes the relative vulnerability of the alien’s status. The security and protection enjoyed while the nation of his allegiance remains in amity with the United States are greatly impaired when his nation takes up arms against us.” Id., at 771.

Using this test, the Eisentrager Court found it appropriate to deny any constitutional claims by the respondents to receive habeas. In essence, the Court employs all six points of contention to determine whether the constitutional right to habeas (as provided by Art. I, sec. 9, c. 2—the Suspension Clause—of the Constitution) applies to the German detainees. The German detainees ultimately fail this test (“no right to the writ of habeas corpus appears.” Id., at 781). Additionally, the Court stresses that the offense, capture, trial, and punishment of the detainees were “beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States,” and that the constitutional rights of an alien are impaired if the alien is a national of a country at war with the United States. This is where an important constitutional tool comes into play—the Suspension Clause.

The Clause states “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 9, c. 2. There is no indication of the citizenship status of a prisoner in the clause, and the Eisentrager Court itself does not consider citizenship to be the central point of contention. It can be reasonably inferred from all contentions in the Court’s test, as well as the emphasis placed on the facts of the detainees’ detainment’s far removal from the territorial jurisdiction of U.S. courts, that the facts of an alien’s detainment must comply with all factors of the six-part test, the extraterritoriality of their detainment, and the belligerent status of the alien’s residential nation in order for the alien to be denied their constitutional right to habeas as provided for by the Suspension Clause. The decision of Eisentrager is not challenged, and its framework acts as precedent for constitutional determination.

Rasul v. Bush demonstrates that providing substantial evidence of differentiability in the facts of an alien’s detainment and the precedent set by Eisentrager allow for an alien to exercise their right to habeas. Ruling in favor of the detainee petitioners, the Rasul Court states:

“Petitioners in these cases differ from the Eisentrager detainees in important respects: They are not nationals of countries at war with the United States, and they deny that they have engaged in or plotted acts of aggression against the United States; they have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control. Not only are petitioners differently situated from the Eisentrager detainees, but the Court in Eisentrager made quite clear that all six of the facts critical to its disposition were relevant only to the question of the prisoners’ constitutional entitlement to habeas corpus.” Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 476 (2004).

In order to make its decision in favor of the detainees, the Court contrasts the situation of the detainees with the situation of Eisentrager respondents and subsequently takes crucial note of how the test utilized in Eisentrager was relevant to the Germans’ constitutional entitlement to habeas. A similar approach must be taken to analyze the facts of Guantanamo prisoners’ detainments, to demonstrate that their cases share a similar fact pattern with the petitioners in Rasul, but that their detainment does not comply with the framework created by Eisentrager. Understanding that the United States exercises jurisdiction over the Guantanamo Bay naval base is the first and foremost indication that the facts of Guantanamo detainment differ too greatly from the story of Eisentrager. The Guantanamo detainees are currently being held within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, already conflicting with the facts of the detainment of the German respondents, who were imprisoned in a United States army-run prison on occupied German soil. The Eisentrager Court relies on the fact that the German detainees’ “trial and their punishment were all beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States,” and so they could rightfully withhold any constitutional right for the aliens. However, acknowledging the Court’s claim that “the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act,” Guantanamo detainees are expressly granted the constitutional right to habeas corpus by the precedent set by Eisentrager as the naval base at Guantanamo Bay is within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 778 (1950), Id., at 771. 

Of course, it’s important to understand the historical application of rights under the jurisdiction of a state, and its derivation from common law. The Rasul Court recalls that under common law, “courts exercised habeas jurisdiction over the claims of aliens detained within sovereign territory of the realm, as well as the claims of persons detained in the so-called “exempt jurisdictions,” where ordinary writs did not run, and all other dominions under the sovereign’s control.” Rasul v. Bush , 542 U.S. 466, 481-482 (2004). Pointing to cases like United States v. Villato, where habeas relief was granted to non-citizen detainees in the United States, the Court further backed their claim that common law, as utilized in the United States, provided for habeas relief to non-citizens under the jurisdiction of the United States. Id., at 481. Further historical evidence of the writ of habeas corpus extending anywhere under the jurisdiction of a state is provided by Judge Rodgers in his dissent of Boumediene v. Bush, 476 F.3d (D.C. Cir. 2007):

“There is ample evidence that the writ did issue to faraway lands. In Ex parte Anderson, 3 El. & El. 487, 121 Eng. Rep. 525 (Q.B.1861), superseded by statute, 25 & 26 Vict., c. 20, § 1, the Court of Queen’s Bench exercised its common-law powers to issue a writ of habeas corpus to Quebec in Upper Canada after expressly acknowledging that it was “sensible of the inconvenience which may result from such a step.” Id. at 494-95, 121 Eng. Rep. at 527-28; see also Brown, 5 B. & S. 280, 122 Eng. Rep. 835 (issuing a writ to the Isle of Man in the sea between England and Ireland). English common-law courts also recognized the power to issue habeas corpus in India, even to non-subjects, and did so notwithstanding competition from local courts, well before England recognized its sovereignty in India.” Id., at 1003.

Justice Rodgers employs common law to argue that state authorities like the English government may extend the writ of habeas to anywhere under its jurisdiction, regardless of hindrance in the case involving Upper Canada and regardless of sovereignty in the issuing of habeas corpus in India. In the same light of traditional jurisprudence, the Rasul Court states “No party questions the District Court’s jurisdiction over petitioners’ custodians.” Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 483 (2004). Theoretically, habeas corpus, as expressed in the Suspension Clause, should extend over any territory where an American official exercises the jurisdiction of the United States and, in this case, to an American custodian over prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. Liberal democracies today champion the use of legal institutions because of their ability to standardize the treatment of any individual under the supervision of the state. Unlike in, say, a theocracy, where inequality is fostered by adherence to archaic custom and laws not rooted in reason, a liberal state theoretically upholds egalitarianism under the presumption that law is absolute. Guantanamo Bay suggests otherwise, standing as unfortunate evidence that law is merely “absolute” to those who can gain proper exposure to it.

To Know or Not to Know: Anonymous Reproductive Donors and Their Children

BY: Solveig Baylor

Solveig is a junior at Georgetown University studying Philosophy, Economics, and Math. She is currently a managing editor for the Georgetown University Undergraduate Law Review.

Pandemic isolation has motivated thousands to search for meaningful connection, including through finding their long-lost biological parents.[1] Children conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as in vetro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, artificial insemination, and others are often denied information about their biological origin informally by their parents.[2] Cryobanks offer known or anonymous options for donation, the latter guaranteeing that the child and his or her parents will not know the donor’s identity and vice versa.[3] Many suggest that even though donor-conceived children maintain fulfilling relationships with the parents that raised them, donor-conceived adults often indicate a hole in their identity left by their unknown biological origins.[4] Generally a child cannot communicate with the donor until 18 years of age, at which point processes vary for facilitating outreach, but both the child and donor must agree to reveal identifying information.[5] More often than not, these requests hinge on the donor’s response: a 2011 study found 82 percent of donor-conceived children would like contact with their donor.[6] The question remains of how the rights of the child are weighed against those of the involved adults.

Cryobanks, fertility organizations, and the law generally prioritize the donor’s right to privacy. The option to anonymously donate limits the human element of connection. This reduces repercussions like donor-conceived children interfering with donors’ families, parentage issues, and potential financial exploitation. Many donate to earn money for side income or when cash-strapped, the amount depending on whether they are eggs or sperm, so anonymity limits these social complexities.[7] But how far does this privately-protected right to privacy extend? In Johnson v. Superior Court (California Cryobank, Inc.), a Santa Barbara family sued California Cryobank, one of the largest and most-reputable sperm banks in the country, for not disclosing a donor’s history of kidney failure.[8] While donors fill out medical history and undergo medical tests, the family had not received any of this information. The court found that California Cryobank’s protection of the donor’s privacy was not absolute, and that the rights of the child’s health and the parent’s redress take priority.[9] This triumph helps balance the scales of donor-conceived children’s rights.

Case law and academia have broadened to include a wide range of children’s rights. Questions of custody through family and contract law have guided this ethical minefield without establishing broad, constrictive rulings.[10] Legal scholarship has addressed complicated questions of citizenship like in the case of international surrogates or ART babies born abroad to American citizens.[11] Answers to these questions depend on the U.S. state, causing families to strategize the birthplace of their child. While citizenship questions helped some, it does not answer the question of the child’s right to know his or her biological origin.

This “right to know” has gained international academic and legal attention. Austria, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and New Zealand have required clinics to record donor medical and identifiable information.[12] Sweden was the first country to ban anonymous donations in 1984, stipulating the child has the right “when sufficiently mature” to know the donor’s identity.[13] Numerous studies have shown, as a result, that parents of donor-conceived children disclosed more often and earlier, cultivating a culture of openness and recognizing the child’s right to know.[14] British law allowed donor-conceived adults to obtain donor information from the national Human Embryology and Fertility Authority register beginning in April 2005.[15] At the same time, all clinics obtained identifiable information from donors, meaning those donor-conceived adults could receive this information starting in 2023.[16] The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which Article 7 contains a child’s right to know their parents.[17] With reference to donor-conceived children, the Committee interprets this as the right to know biological origin.[18] This is supported by Article 8 which secures the child’s right to “preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name, and family relations.”[19] The European Court of Human Rights protects this right to a lesser degree, contending this right to identity “is not absolute” as this may conflict with a family’s private rights.[20]

A child’s right to know still faces barriers in some countries. As of March 2020, Japan lacks any statutory laws regulating sperm or oocyte donations.[21] Only anonymous donors may be used in Singapore, Slovenia, and Vietnam.[22] Anonymity persists culturally in France and Greece since they see the parent-child relationship as purely socially-constructed.[23]

While ART varies in legality by state in the U.S., there is no federal regulation in the field.[24] The Food and Drug Administration dictates the medical information cryobanks must collect from donors, but anonymity is not within its purview.[25] While not as strong of a step as the UK or Sweden, Washington state mandated in 2011 that donor-conceived children have access to identifiable donor information once they reach the age of 18 unless the donor opts out, as opposed to the industry standard of opting in.[26] Contrastingly, states like Oregon and Virginia ratified legislation recognizing that donors and donor-conceived children have no duties or rights to each other.[27] Still, the majority of state legislation concerns questions of parentage, leaving the question of donor anonymity and the child’s rights unanswered.[28]

While largely left unanswered, asking the question of the child’s right to know his or her biological origin is a win in itself. A donor’s privacy remains rightfully important, but how does it stack up against a child’s longing to know where her distinct nose comes from? Or why she laughs the way she does? Or why she is the family’s black sheep? IVF law weighs the rights of children and adults, often unintentionally prioritizing some over others to the child’s detriment.  For ART and certainly beyond, the voiceless must have a voice within the law.

[1] Lisa Selin Davis, Pandemic Sparks More People to Hunt for Their Birthparents, Long Lost Relatives, The Washington Post (September 19, 2020),

[2] Child Rights International Network, A Children’s Rights Approach to

Assisted Reproduction 13, (2018)

[3] For example, see the California Cryobank website

[4] Emma O’Friel, Donor-Conceived Adults: A Lifelong Search for Identity, The Irish Times (July 22, 2017),

[5] California Cryobank, supra note 3.

[6] Ashley Fetters, Finding the Lost Generation of Sperm Donors, The Atlantic (May 18, 2018),

[7] Julie Marquis, Court Limits Anonymity of Sperm Donors, Los Angeles Times (May 20, 2000),

[8] Id.

[9] Johnson v. Superior Court (California Cryobank, Inc.) 95 Cal. Rptr. 2d 867, 878 (Cal. Ct. App. 2000).

[10] Jenna Casolo et al., Assisted Reproductive Technologies, 20 Geo. J. Gender & L. 313, 330-337 (2019).

[11] Kristine S. Knaplund, Baby Without a Country: Determining Citizenship for

Assisted Reproduction Children Born Overseas, 91 Denver U. L. Rev. 335 (2014); Scott Titshaw,

Sorry Ma’am, Your Baby is an Alien: Outdated Immigration Rules and Assisted Reproductive

Technology, 12 Fla. Coastal L. Rev. 47 (2010).

[12] Rich Vaughn, Is Sperm Donor Anonymity a Thing of the Past?, Int’l Fertility L. Group (October 30, 2020),

[13] Brigitte Clark, A Balancing Act? The Rights of Donor-Conceived Children to Know Their Biological Origins, 40 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 619, 635 (2012).

[14] Id. at 635-636.

[15] Id. at 636.

[16] Id. at 637.

[17] Id. at 625.

[18] Id. at 626.

[19] Id. at 627.

[20] Id. at 630.

[21] Yuri Hibino & Sonia Allan, Absence of Laws Regarding Sperm and Oocyte Donation in Japan and the Impacts on Donors, Parents, and the People Born as a Result, 19 Reprod. Med. Biol. 295, 295-298 (2020).

[22] Howard W. Jones & Jean Cohen, Fertility and Sterility S28 (2007).

[23] Id.; Clark, supra note 13, at 634.

[24] Vaughn, supra note 12.

[25] Id.

[26] Bonnie Rochman, Where Do (Some) Babies Come From? In Washington, a New Law Bans Anonymous Sperm and Egg Donors, Time (July 22, 2011),,-By%20Bonnie%20Rochman&text=Traditionally%2C%20the%20identities%20of%20egg,offspring%20to%20ever%20make%20contact.

[27] Clark, supra note 13, at 638.

[28] Id.

Sovereignty of Post-Climate Change Affected States Under International Law

BY: Prateek Singh

Prateek Singh is a student at National Law University in Jodhpur, India

In an era of climate change, the sea poses a threat to island states. With an increase in sea levels, the coastal boundaries of a territory are moving landwards, thereby causing a part of the land to get submerged by the sea, leaving it inaccessible for habitation.[1] According to the World Meteorological Organisation, by the end of this century, the global average temperatures are likely to increase by over 3°C, which may in turn cause seas to rise by almost a meter.[2] This could have deadly outcomes for the international community, since a number of states are likely to lose a large percentage of their territories to water. Low-lying nation states like Maldives and the Marshall Islands are expected to be completely submerged by the end of this century.[3]

Section 2 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) holds that the maritime territories of a state are measured from its baseline, the line along the coast from which the seaward limits of a state’s territorial sea and other maritime zones are measured.[4] However, with a continuous increase in sea levels, baselines are likely to move landwards. If this occurs, states will lose control over their land and nautical territories. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) are naval zones measured 200 nautical miles from the baseline, under which a nation is exclusively entitled to conduct economic activities such as fishing, navigation, and oil and gas mining.[5] Based on the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Land Continental Shelf (Germany v Denmark and the Netherlands [1969] ICJ 1), as per the principle of land dominates the sea, a state has no right to control its formerly occupied naval territory, if it loses its land to the sea.[6] If a state loses its land territory to water, it inevitably also loses its right to carry out commercial activities over a certain nautical region.

However, the ICJ’s opinion in the North Sea Continental Shelf case serves as a settled principle of international law, stating that once a nation has once attained its statehood, its status shall not cease to exist even if it becomes unable to satisfy the essentials, as laid under the Montevideo Convention, 1933.[7] This principle affirms the idea that the nature of international law acts not on the basis of sanctions, but on the basis of consent. Since state recognition is merely a social action, other states may continue to interact with submerged states. In addition, it is pertinent to differentiate between the state’s land and the state’s territory. A land possessed by the state which is submerged will continue to remain a part of the state’s territory.[8]

There exists no framework to decide how long a state may sustain without a territory of its own. However, there do exist examples such as the Order of Malta and the Holy See, which represent a state’s ability to exercise control without having power over a defined territory.[9]

Despite the absence of an explicit mechanism regulating the statehood of submerged states under international law, the Sydney Conference of 2018 acted as a turning point, observing a practice for states to demarcate unvarying baselines which shall remain unchanged even if the land territory moves inwards.[10]

Though the law is not very strong on this point, the fact that existing landless states are able to exercise control in their territories indicates that sovereignty persists even if the state loses its characteristics of statehood. Since sovereignty binds a territory, not a land, it is likely that in the circumstance where a state loses its land to the seas, its citizens shall still be entitled to continue controlling within their maritime territories. Professor Burkett has drawn a solid analogy, predicting that a deterritorialized state is bound to exist, as in the case of states with exiled governments.[11] Such states are an example of states maintaining their sovereignty without possessing any land, functioning satisfactorily with due recognition under international law. Tibet is one such state operating despite its government being dislocated.[12]

Therefore, a state’s sovereignty does not simply rest upon its land, but upon its territory, which also includes water and air. Although submergence under the sea would not amount to losing statehood status per se, it is important that states formally declare their baselines on an urgent basis so as to authenticate their land and naval territories and ensure stable maritime governance.

[1] National Geographic. 2020. Weather Shows Evidence Of Climate Change Every Single Day Since 2012. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 19 October 2020].

[2] World Meteorological Organization. 2019. State Of The Climate In 2018 Shows Accelerating Climate Change Impacts. [online] Available at: <,and%20is%20expected%20to%20continue.&gt;

[3] World Bank. 2010. Climate Change In The Maldives. [online] Available at: <,in%20the%20worst%2Dcase%20scenario.&gt; [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[4]  Section 2, Article 5. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 October 2020].

[5] Part V, Article 57. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 October 2020].

[6] North Sea Continental Shelf (Federal Republic of Germany v Denmark) (Merits) [1969] ICJ Rep 3 para 96.

[7] North Sea Continental Shelf (Federal Republic of Germany/Netherlands) [1969] (The International Court of Justice).

[8] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2011. Climate Change Displacement And International Law: Complementary Protection Standards. LEGAL AND PROTECTION POLICY. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[9] Byrnes, Timothy, ‘Sovereignty, Supranationalism, And Soft Power: The Holy See In International Relations’ (2017). 15 The Review of Faith & International Affairs. Farran, C D’Olivier, ‘The Sovereign Order Of Malta: A Supplementary Note’ (1955) 4 International and Comparative Law Quarterly.

[10] In: Sydney Conference (2018). International Law and Sea Level Rise. Sydney: International Law Association.

[11] Burkett, Maxine, The Nation Ex-Situ: On Climate Change, Deterritorialized Nationhood, and the Post-Climate Era (2011). 2 Climate Law 345, 2011, Available at SSRN:

[12] Hao, Zhidong, ‘Sovereignty, Ethnicity, And Culture: The Tibetan Issue In An Institutionalist Perspective’ (2012) 21 Journal of Contemporary China.


BY: Ishaan Paranjape and Ved Thakur

Ishaan Paranjape is a third year undergraduate student pursuing B.L.S. LL.B. He attends the University of Mumbai, India. He has a keen interest in Constitutional Law, IPR and ADR.

Ved Thakur is a third year undergraduate student pursuing B.B.A. LL.B. (Hons). He attends Gujarat National Law University, India. He has a keen interest in International Arbitration and IPR.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for certain sectors, such as the pharmaceutical and textile industries, which try to accrue benefits from intellectual property.[1] Globally, there has been a sudden rise in trademark and patent applications[2] for pharma product names that converge with the name of the virus, such as ‘COVID Sanitizers,’ ‘COVID Survivor,’ ‘COVID Sanjeevani’ etc.[3] However, there is a question as to whether these formative marks using the nomenclature of ‘COVID-19’ and ‘CORONA’ can be registered with the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks of India.

In this paper, the authors will analyze Section 9 and Section 13 of the Indian Trademarks Act, 1999 in order to determine the legality of the ‘COVID-19’ and ‘CORONA’ trademark. Furthermore, an attempt is also made to view this issue in light of Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.[4] The authors will also analyze the trademark trends regarding this ‘commercial’ pandemic at the international level.

Through the Prism of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act

Pharmaceutical companies tend to earn a larger share of profit by protecting their intellectual property rights. It is imperative to understand that if a trademark is granted for a ‘COVID-19’ or ‘CORONA’ formative mark, it will lead to confusion, and possible health hazards.[5] Also, in India, over the counter sales are common. Several customers purchase products without prescription and this will surely lead to more health risks.[6]

One must consider Section 3 of Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 (“Act”).[7] The aforementioned section prohibits the publication of any advertisement referring to any drug that suggests or leads to the use of that specific drug for the diagnosis, treatment, cure, mitigation, or prevention of any disorder, disease, or condition specified in the rules formulated under the same Act. For instance pneumonia, pleurisy, nervous debility, fevers, paralysis, epilepsy and others are mentioned in the schedule of the Act.[8]

In the Hamdard Dawakhana case, the Supreme Court of India opined that the objective of this Act is to prevent self-medication, and stated that a curb on such ads is a means to achieve the end of prevention of self-medication.[9] Again, the Apex Court, in the case of Yash Pal Sahi v. Delhi Administration, clarified that the purpose of the Act is to save people from being duped into purchasing medicines just because their effects are advertised in eloquent terms.[10] Such advertisements, combined with a lack of knowledge regarding the name of the medicine and the ingredients present, can cause an average customer to purchase a drug from a local pharmacy which may have the words ‘COVID-19’ or ‘CORONA’ in its brand name but may have nothing to do with treating the virus. In such a situation, the consumer might self-medicate, and this exact situation is what the Act seeks to prevent.

Indian Trademarks Act and the COVID-19 Trademark

Furthermore, one has to consider Section 9 of The Trade Marks Act of 1999.[11] It is clear that the marks which are devoid of any distinctive character are refused to be registered as trademarks under the impugned section. At the same time, Section 9 of the Trademarks Act denies trademark protection to the mark if it designates the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, or other characteristics of the product.[12] For instance, if the mark is descriptive in nature, then usually it is not registered.[13] So, we will examine whether the usage of words ‘CORONA’ or ‘COVID-19’ is descriptive.

The ‘CORONA’ or ‘COVID-19’ formative marks clearly try to establish a connection with the pandemic, and thus it can be argued that they can be  descriptive in nature. Being ‘CORONA protected’ or ‘COVID free’ describes the quality of the product and thereby does not pass the muster of Section 9 of the Trademark Act. The Honourable Delhi High Court, in the case of Cadila Healthcare Limited v. Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Limited and Ors., confirmed that the usage of the word ‘Sugar-Free’ cannot be registered as a trademark as it describes the quality of the specific product.[14] Similarly, in Marico Limited v. Agrotech Foods Limited., the Delhi High Court frowned upon a company trying to assert its monopoly over the term ‘Losorb’.[15]  The word ‘Losorb’ is a replacement for ‘Low Absorb’ i.e., the characteristic of that specific product.

Therefore, the prohibition of descriptive marks is adequately explicit through the aforementioned judicial pronouncements. Section 9 also prohibits granting a trademark for marks that could cause confusion. This scrutiny is especially rigorous when it comes to the pharma sector, because the life and limb of individuals depend upon the products this sector sells, and the health risks inherent to the industry necessitates that there should be no room for confusion.

One must be mindful of the concept of deceptive similarity. A mark shall be deemed to be deceptively similar to another mark if it so nearly resembles the original mark that it is likely to deceive or lead to confusion.[16] The case of Milmet Oftho Industries and Ors v. Allergan Inc. clarified the meaning of deceptive similarity and mandated consideration of certain external factors, such as the nature of the goods in respect of which they are used as trademarks and which classes of buyers are likely to purchase the products.[17] In the case of Cadila Healthcare Ltd. v. Cadila Pharmaceutical Ltd., the Apex Court opined that confusion with regards to drugs could be dangerous to the lives of consumers and, thus, all products that may jeopardize the health of the purchasers have to be considered with greater scrutiny.[18] However, determining if a drug trademark is confusing or deceptive falls under the power of the Trade Mark Registry.[19]

Also, on a bare reading of Section 13 of the Trademark Act, it becomes clear that the names of chemical elements, International Non-proprietary Names (INNs), or any deceptively similar names fall beyond the ambit of being registered as Trademarks under the Trademark Act.[20] This is done to avoid confusion. For instance, an Indian Ayurvedic Company – Patanjali created confusion, when they marketed their product as a cure for the coronavirus without government approval.[21]

The Commercial Pandemic Trademarks vis-à-vis International Perspective

Trademark offices across the world are flooded with trademark applications containing the term ‘Coronavirus’. As of May 15, 2020, there were as many as 86 applications in the United States of America alone.[22] Kenyonken Productions LLC were the first to file trademark applications for ‘COVID-19 Survivor’ t-shirts (February 14, 2020).[23] There are several more applications like ‘FXCK Coronavirus’ for several pieces of merchandise.[24] However, these applications are still at the examination stage.[25] Even the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) in Europe has categorically rejected many trademark applications on the grounds that ‘COVID-19’ is descriptive in nature and lacks distinctiveness.[26] BOIP also put forth that these applications can be rejected on the grounds of being against ‘morality’ and ‘public order’.[27]

China’s Intellectual Property Office states that more than 1500 trademark registration applications have been filed since the beginning of the pandemic.[28] Nevertheless, these applications fall under the ambit of Article 10 (8) of the Trademark Law of People’s Republic of China of 1983. The said provision states that anything that is detrimental to socialist morals or customs or having other unhealthy influences cannot be granted a trademark in China. Zhang Chan, Assistant Judge in Beijing Intellectual Property Court, argues that trademarks for Coronavirus falls under Article 10, and thus should not be granted.[29]  Also, Article 11 of the 1983 Chinese Act converges with Section 9 of its Indian counterpart, and thus, the arguments advanced above can be considered applicable here.[30] On a perusal of several IP jurisdictions, it can be discerned that IP offices across the world have shown an inclination towards rejecting ‘COVID-19’ or Coronavirus trademark applications.


Most of the ‘COVID-19’ and ‘CORONA’ formative marks that have been sought are in the examination stage currently. It will be indeed interesting to see what awaits once the examination reports of these applications are published. It is evident that several objections will be raised on the basis of the aforementioned ‘deceptive similarity’ and the confusion such similarity causes. Also, issues regarding Section 13 of the Trademark Act and the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act will be inevitably invoked.

However, the authors firmly believe that irrespective of the marketing-appeal these words may provide, no trademark should be granted for the terminology ‘COVID-19’ or ‘CORONA’ because of evident problems already highlighted above. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to the decision of the registry and interpretation of the judiciary in this matter.

[1] Anusuya Nigam & Vrinda Pathak, Affordable Access to Covid-19 drugs: Are voluntary patent licences here to stay?, The Economic Times, (May 15, 2020)

[2] IP offices implement measures in wake of coronavirus crisis, World Trademark Review (Oct. 1, 2020)

[3] What’s in a name? Coronavirus-related trademark applications pour in, CNBC TV (Apr. 09, 2020)

[4] Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 1954 (India).

[5] Krishna Singhania & Vanshaj Mehta, ‘Covid’ or ‘Corona’: Can they be trademarks for pharmaceutical industry?, The Daily Guardian, (July 31, 2020),

[6] Ashish Roy, Self-Medication Risks, Exceptions and Prevention, MedLife, (October 25, 2018),

[7] Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954, Section 3, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 1954 (India).

[8] Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954, Schedule 1, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 1954 (India).

[9] Hamdard Dawakhana (Wakf), Lal Kuan, Delhi & Another v. Union of India & Ors, A.I.R 1960 SC 554

[10] 1964 A.I.R 784.

[11] Trade Marks Act, 1999, Section 9, No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1999 (India).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] (2010) I.L.R 2 Delhi 85.

[15] (2010) 43 PTC 39 (Del).

[16] Satya Sabharwal & Alisha Rastogi, Evolution of Deceptive Similarity Tests under Trademark Law, (August 23, 2020),

[17] (2004) 12 S.C.C 624.

[18] (2001) 5 S.C.C 73.

[19] Trade Marks Act, 1999, Section 18, No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1999 (India).

[20] Trade Marks Act, 1999, Section 13, No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1999 (India).

[21] Shruti Mahajan, “Cannot Prevent use of ‘Coronil’ because of a pesticide registered in its name”, SC refuses to entertain trademark against Patanjali, Bar and Bench (Aug. 27, 2020, 2:04 PM)

[22] Vikrant Rana, Bijit Das and Shubhankar Shashikant, The Rise of Corona/Covid Brands Around the World, Mondaq, (May 15, 2020),

[23] Joseph Grasser and Marisol Mark, Stop Trying to Trademark COVID and CORONAVIRUS, Global IP & Technology Law Blog (Mar.25, 2020),

[24] Id.

[25] Krishnan Singnania and Vanshaj Mehta, ‘COVID’ or ‘CORONA’ – Whether they can be Trademarks for the Pharmaceutical Industries?, Lexology, (July 27, 2020)

[26] Benelux Office for Intellectual Property, Official Website


[28] Sophia Liu, Jamie Rowlands and Lara Pentreath, Overview On Intellectual Property Protection Notes In China During The COVID-19 Outbreak, Mondaq, (02 June, 2020)

[29] Zhang Can, Can COVID-19 related terms be registered as Trademarks?, CGTN (Apr.23, 2020, 08:38 P.M)–PVvkAFu968/index.html

[30] Trademarks Law of the People’s Republic of China, 1983, Article 11 (People’s Republic of China).

Extending Legal Gender Recognition to Transgender Refugees: Rana V. Hungary


In a historic verdict for the LGBT community, the European Court of Human Rights has, for the first time, conferred legal gender recognition rights on transgender refugees (Source: Unsplash).

In July 2020, the European Court of Human Rights [“ECtHR”] in Rana v. Hungary set a landmark precedent by extending the right of legal gender recognition for transgender refugees.[1] By doing so, the ECtHR has acknowledged the hurdles faced by migrants approaching their country of residence for changes in gender identity, despite being persecuted for the same in their country of origin.[2] The judgment has been appreciated by many transgender advocates.[3]

The applicant was Mr. Jafarizad Rana, an Iranian national residing in Budapest. Mr. Rana was born as a female, but identified as a male from a young age.[4] His asylum application to Hungary was accepted by the authorities because it was found that he had faced persecution in Iran because of his sexuality.[5] Subsequently, he applied for gender and name change to the Hungarian Immigration and Citizenship Office [“the Office”].[6]

The Office informed him that they did not have the jurisdiction to forward the application to the Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths because Rana was not born in Hungary, without looking into the merits of the issue.[7] His review application was rejected by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that there was no statutory power allowing names of non-Hungarian citizens to be changed.[8] It was also held that since the law did not provide adequate protection towards non-Hungarian citizens residing in the country lawfully, it was unconstitutional and restrictive.[9] Despite this judgment, no change was brought about in the legislative framework.[10]

Mr. Rana contended before the ECtHR that the action of the authorities violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [“ECHR”] which guarantees respect for private life.[11] The ECtHR held that Article 8 protects personal identity, which includes gender identity and names.[12] Pursuant to this article, the Hungarian authorities were required to strike a fair balance between the applicant’s interests and the community as a whole.[13]

The Hungarian Government argued that he should have his gender change registered in Iran.[14] The ECtHR observed although States were free to determine whether they had suitable policies in place, they had a narrow scope for integral aspects of personal identity such as name and gender.[15] In the past, the Court had held that the absence of legal gender recognition amounts to interference in an individual’s private life and hence, it was a positive obligation under Article 8 to have proper procedures in place.[16]

In the present case, it was held that since there was no provision for lawfully settled non-Hungarian citizens to change their name and gender, there was an excessive interference with their right to dignity.[17] The Court found that Article 8 of the ECHR had been violated since a fair balance between Mr. Rana’s right to private life and public interest had not been struck by the Hungarian authorities.[18] Thus, the ECtHR has clarified that the positive obligation under Article 8 to legal recognition of gender identity extends to lawful non-citizens also.[19]

The ruling is particularly significant since in May 2020, the Hungarian Parliament had approved a law which effectively banned recognizing gender after birth by basing it on ‘chromosomes at birth’.[20] The incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party has prohibited same sex marriages and ‘temporarily’ banned gender changes since 2017.[21] Multiple cases with similar facts had been filed against the Hungarian Parliament in the last 3 years, since the inadequate framework was adversely impacting citizens as well as migrants.[22] Thus, the judgment plays a pivotal role since it protects human rights principles in Hungary and has extended gender identity rights to refugees also.

[1] Rana v. Hungary, Application No. 40888/17 (2020), available at{%22itemid%22:[%22001-203563%22]} [hereinafter “Rana v. Hungary”].
[2] Third Party Intervention in Rana v. Hungary, (last visited September 14, 2020).
[3] Heather Cassell, European Court rules Hungary must recognize gender identity, The Bay Area Reporter (Jul. 22, 2020), [hereinafter “Cassell”].
[4] Rana v. Hungary, supra note 1, at ¶5.
[5] Id. at ¶7.
[6] Id. at ¶8.
[7] Id. at ¶10.
[8] Id. at ¶13.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. at ¶18.
[12] Id. at ¶24.
[13] Id. at ¶38.
[14] Id. at ¶34.
[15] Id. at ¶39.
[16] Christine Goodwin v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 28957/95 (2002).
[17] Rana v. Hungary, supra note 1, at ¶40.
[18] Id. at ¶42.
[19] Cassell, supra note 2.
[20] Id.
[21] Pablo Gorondi, European Union Takes Legal Action Against Hungary on NGO Law, Courthouse News Service, (Jul. 13, 2017),
[22] Cassell, supra note 2.

Criminology of Stone Pelting During COVID-19 in India


Aarushi Kapoor is a third year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. She has interests in Humanitarian law, International Laws and Corporate laws.

Ssanjnna Gupta is a third year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. She has interests in International Law, Constitutional Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution.

 Largest unplanned national lockdown

India, a country with the second largest population in the world, imposed a nation-wide lockdown to cure the coronavirus among its citizens.[1] However, such a last-minute imposition of a lockdown was entirely unplanned. This decision has hit hard upon the lives of migrant workers who have realized the indifference of the authorities. The lack of responsiveness led to a situation wherein these migrant workers had to undertake a journey on foot to reach their hometowns from the bigger cities they were trapped in.[2] They struggled for basic needs like food, shelter, and employment and such a deprivation has resulted in the death of more than 400 migrant workers up to this point.[3] Some have died because of hunger while some in road accidents. As a consequence, a protest movement has developed within the migrant worker community.[4]

Criminal act presupposes Criminal intent  

While the Government plans to build a self-reliant nation, at the same time it seems equally reluctant to exhaust its resources upon the force which drives the nation i.e. labour-force.[5] The rift has widened to the extent that these laborers have come down upon pelting stones at the police. There have been reported instances of stone pelting by the migrant workers at the police and passers-by. Supposed examples of this include a busy road connecting IIM-Ahmedabad with vastrapur, the Palam Vihar of Gurugram, and the premises of IIT Hyderabad in Telangana.[6] In response, the State Governments are resorting to various penal provisions under the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”).[7] Section 307 is one of the various sections which is being invoked to try such alleged offenses as attempted murder. [8]

To determine whether the Government’s response is legally justified, it is important to question whether these alleged instances of stone pelting by the migrants legally qualifies as attempted-murder in any circumstance.For conviction under Section 307, all the ingredients of murder except death have to be proven.[9] The mens rea required for attempted murder is the same as that of murder under Section 300.[10] The burden of proof falls on the prosecution to prove that the act was done with the intention or knowledge of causing death or such bodily injury that the accused knew was likely to cause the death of that person,[11] or that the act done is so imminently dangerous that in all probability it will result in death.[12]

Given these legislative requirements, prosecuting these migrant workers under Section 307 for the act of stone is unjust.t The knowledge requirement in Section 300 (from which Section 307 is derived) is absent in this case because it requires a prior knowledge of some peculiar physical condition” of the victim.[13] One cannot prudently expect the migrant workers who needed to reach their hometowns to have gathered knowledge about the physical conditions of the policemen whom they attacked in the heat of the moment. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that any prosecution under Section 307 requires a twofold probe. In order for the act of stone pelting to amount to attempted to murder, has to satisfy this probe, which requires that  it should be intentional and  grievous enough to cause death. The act of stone pelting in the first instance did not injure the policemen in such a way that it would inevitably and in all circumstances cause death. Even for once in a distant interpretation, the stone pelting might be considered as either likely to cause death, however, the very act as illustrated in the present scenario can never be intentional. It is devoid of mala-fides.

Every criminal act requires the element of mens rea.[14] The migrant workers never had the intention to murder the policemen. Pelting stones at the police was a reaction to the discontentment they have been going through to survive the mismanagement of the government during this pandemic.[15] The migrant workers preferred making the stone a symbol of powerless anger.[16]

In consonance with this interpretation there has been a recent order by the Bombay High Court in Karan Nair v. State of Maharashtra wherein a man who attacked police for being asked to wear a mask was released due to absence of any criminal intention to attack the policemen.[17]  Furthermore, in Shabana M Ron v. State of Kerala, the Kerala High Court was once again granted bail to some of the stone pelters owing to their distressed psychology in the testing times of the pandemic. [18]

Hence, it becomes essential to ascertain the presence of a psychological and criminal intent in the mind of the accused. The migrant workers did not carry any weapons with them except for stones.[19] Although it is wrong to stone pelt police and bystanders, the protesters demanded accountability of the Government with respect to the discharge of their welfare duties; they did not intend to commit murder.[20] Such an act fails to have a criminal intent required for deliberately propelling unruly elements in the State.[21]

Exploring the Alternatives

Hence, instead of charging these individuals with the serious offences like Section 307, conviction under Section 270 IPC that is “malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” is more appropriate.[22] Those who throw stones at police and civilians can also be successfully convicted under Section 188 which punishes on account of disobedience of orders promulgated by the public servants tending to risk human life.[23]


India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and is obligated to adhere to the principles of the Convention.[24] Article 10 of ICCPR mandates to treat each individual with the requisite dignity.[25] The lockdown was an immediate measure taken up by the Government to curb the spread of COVID-19 but the inefficiencies and the consequences which followed due to lack national planning has affected the migrant workers financially and emotionally.[26] There is no doubt that the stone pelting by the distressed migrant workers upon the police led to a breach of law and order. The question which brims is that was it appropriate to legally charge the migrant workers with the heinous offences like murder? Charging these migrants with attempted murder was not legally justified—especially when other, less extreme charges, would have been more appropriate for the circumstances.

[1] Ramesh Luthra, Coronavirus India Lockdown Day, The Hindu (2020),

[2] Madhunika Iyer, Migration in India and the Impact of the Lockdown on Migrants, The PRS India (2020),

[3] Jawgar Sircar, A Long Look at Exactly Why and How India Failed its Migrant Workers, The Wire (2020),

[4] Sundaram Srinisvasan, Hundreds of Migrant Workers Protest, The Times of India (2020),

[5] Adarsh Srivastava, Protest or Rebel, The Tribune (2020),

[6] Ibid.

[7] M.P. Nathanael, Licensed to beat, abuse and kill, The Hindu (2020),

[8] Geeta Pandey, Desperate Migrant Workers trapped in Lockdown, The BBC (2020),

[9] Siddarth Bhatia, Why Indian Don’t Come Out on the Streets Against Regular Police Brutality, The Wire (2020),

[10] Ashmita Nandy, Why migrant workers long for home, The Quint (2020),

[11] Saba, To attract S. 307 IPC, there must be intention or knowledge on part of accused, The SCC Online Blog (2020),

[12] Ibid.

[13] Yogesh v State of Maharashtra (2019) 5 SCC OnLine Bom 1039.

[14] Sarosh Bana, The Government is not interested in stopping torture by the police, The National Herald (2020),

[15] Joe Wallen, Protests break out in India as Migrant workers stranded and starving far from home, The Telegraph (2020),

[16] Ibid.

[17] Karan Nair v State of Maharashtra, (2020) 8 SCC 457, ¶ 81.

[18] Shabana M Ron v State of Kerala, (2020) 7 SCC 859, ¶ 14.

[19] Lockdown: Migrant Workers clash with Police in Gujarat, The Economic Times (2020),

[20] Nathulal v State of Maharashtra, (1966) 4 SCC 43.

[21] State Of Gujarat v Chauhan Mulsinh Cheharsinh, (2004) 7 SCC OnLineGuj 4847

[22] Tarunabh Khaitan,  What Courts Say, What Courts Do, UK Constitutional Law Association ( 2014),

[23] Ibid.

[24]  “General Comment No. 13: Equality before the courts and the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent court established by law”. UN OHCHR. 13 April 1984. Retrieved 10 October 2010.

[25] International Federation for Human Rights, India: Government fails to address key human rights concerns during UN review, 21 September 2017, available at: %5Baccessed 15 September 2020]

[26] Ibid.

Abandoning Climate Refugees: A “Crime against Humanity” under International Criminal Law?


On 7 January 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Committee decided that international refugees should not be sent home.[1] This decision was handed down by the committee after examining the case of Ioane Teitiota, a Kiribati citizen of South Tarawa, who was seeking refugee rights in New Zealand, but was denied. While upholding New Zealand’s decision, the Committee agreed that climate threats would in the future prevent international law states from returning refugees to their own countries. This decision is quite relevant in relation to international criminal law and the responsibility to protect Environmental Refugees.[2] “Environmental refugee”, a term coined by Essam El-Hinnawi, identifies people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat temporarily or permanently because of a significant environmental (natural and/or human-induced) disturbance that endangers their life and/or seriously affects the quality of their lives.[3]

As international refugee law fails to take into consideration climate/ecological refugees, the article suggests that international criminal law could be resorted to in this situation. The article will clarify the application of international criminal law, in particular “Crimes Against Humanity” (CAH) for the protection of refugees due to climate change, natural disasters and environmental crimes. CAH have been a measure in international court tribunals for acts that “shocked the conscience of mankind”.[4]

Slow-onset disasters, fueled by climate change render places uninhabitable by creeping up on communities. While their relatively slow evolution offers an opportunity to prepare appropriate responses, the perceived lack of urgency can pose a significant challenge for those affected.[5] This takes into consideration the country’s own legislation on disaster prevention, but the legislation in some countries does not include slow-onset disasters and climate induced sudden events, such as super-cyclones for example. In these scenarios, man’s presence and his actions alter the nature and extent of a disaster.[6] A similar thing happened when Cyclone Amphan caused massive damage and destruction in India.[7] It is also possible to draw a connection between mass crimes and climate change, both of which endanger the most basic rights of the population.[8] Jessica Cooper goes a step further, suggesting that both slow-onset disasters related to climate change and sudden natural disasters can be regarded as persecution.[9] In order to satisfy the criterion of persecution for a specific cause, Cooper claims that the ecologically displaced people are being persecuted on the grounds that they belong to a certain social community, namely a category of individuals who are politically helpless to defend their environment.[10]

The second situation is the assistance by the international community in a timely manner. Previously, Russian scientists had reported that a small Arctic island had disappeared, saying that only open water remained at the site. In these recent examples, the islands were small and uninhabited, but scientists say the fate of these tiny pieces of land could be a harbinger of what is to come.[11] Researchers also expect that before the end of this century, islands such as Maldives, Tuvalu and, Fiji will be underwater.

CAH has an expounding and evolving context, and from what we have witnessed, it has been in the process of gradual development since its inception. Potential CAH cases brought under the ICC may occur as states plan to expel individuals fleeing environmental catastrophe in home countries, posing a threat to life.[12] Again, it is problematic that states with the resources and the potential to offer shelter for fleeing communities do not provide refuge in their countries as the universal concept of refugees does not cover climate refugees.[13] This implements the “burden sharing” of the detrimental impact of climate change on the refugee-hosting community.[14]

The third situation concerns man-made disasters that directly affect the environment, such as illegal wildlife trade, river dumping and unrestricted logging, the result of which is ecological refugees. Westra in her book, Environmental Justice and the Rights of Ecological Refugees notes that the case states ICC cases for the former Yugoslavia and the Rome Legislation are illustrative of the open essence of CAH, which indicate that they would accommodate ecological crimes. She further says that CAH take into consideration the lower mens rea level of “knowledge of an attack” making ecological crimes a perfect fit for this category.[15]


As environmental disasters, caused by climate change or otherwise, worsen, increasing populations suffer from the negative effects of climate change by death or displacement. With this comes the so-called Responsibility to Protect of home states and the international community, failure to comply with which should count as a CAH and such incidents should be brought under the jurisdiction of ICC. We need to look towards international criminal law and its amalgamation with International Environmental Law for solutions, the demand for which keeps rising daily. Though steps are slowly being taken to reduce emissions to cut down on our carbon footprint, it is still not enough. It is high time for international law to pay heed to this rapidly deteriorating situation at hand.

[1] Refworld. 2020. Refworld | Ioane Teitiota V. New Zealand (Advance Unedited Version),,HRC,5e26f7134.html.

[2] Melinna Godin, Climate Refugees Cannot Be Sent Home, U.N. Rules | Time (2020),

[3] Globalization101,,seriously%20effects%20the%20quality%20of.

[4] Charles Jalloh, What Makes a Crime Against Humanity a Crime Against Humanity? (28 ed. 2013), American University International Law Review.

[5] Elisa Alonzo, Slow onset disasters: where climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction meet | (2017),

[6] IDRL Guidelines at the 31st International Conference,,

[7] Architesh Panda, Climate Change, Displacement, and Managed Retreat in Coastal India (2020),

[8] Naser, Mostafa. (2013). Climate Change induced Displacement: Definitional Issues and Concerns. Chicago-Kent Journal of Environmental and Energy Law. 2.

[9] Jessica Cooper, Note, Environmental Refugees: Meeting the Requirements of the Refugee Definition, 6 N.Y.U. Envtl. L.J. 480, 503 (1998), at 509.

[10] Shouvik Guha, According Refugee Protection to Environmental Migrants: An overview under International Refugee Law (2 ed.), International Journal of International Law.

[11] Denise Chow, Three islands disappeared in the past year. Is climate change to blame? (2019),

[12] Charles Chernor Jalloh, What Makes a Crime Against Humanity a Crime Against Humanity? , 28 Am. U. Int’l L. Rev. 381 (2013),,religious%20or%20political%20grounds%22).

[13] Peter Lehner, Environment, Law, and Nonprofits: How NGOs Shape Our Laws, Health, and Communities, 26 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 19 (2009),

[14] Nafess Ahmad, Overheating the Humanitarian Law in contemporary international relations (2018),

[15] Laura Westra, Environmental Justice and the Rights of Ecological Refugees 188 (2009).

NALSA Judgment: Critique of the Indian Perspective Beyond the Adams-and-Eves Worldview


Aastha Khanna, LL.B. student, Law Centre-1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi;
Divesh Sawhney, LL.B. student, Law Centre-1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi;

     Fifty Eight… Beyond the man-woman binary, there are as many 58 gender variants.[1]. Transgender persons’ lives are no longer footnotes in the law books, their identities are no longer uniformly bound to surgical requirements. The Judicial ken on the subject has come out of the valley of shadows to bask in the glistening sunlight of liberty — from Corbett’s[2] heretic ‘biological test’/’gender dysphoria’ era to the unstinted ‘psychological aspect’/ equality principle gaining ground in recent dicta of U.S Supreme Court,[3] African Court[4] and Malaysian Court[5], among others.

     From India’s perspective, NALSA judgment[6] is a monumental step in the right direction. It has unclipped the wings of an egalitarian society; and the apostles of gender-binary heresy are not so much beaten as overawed. The Court drew an analogy between trans-community and untouchables — both wracked and ostracized by the society. The wails of untouchables in India have been somewhat atoned, and the time is ripe to follow the same course for the rights of trans-community.


     A court of law is a house of semantics. It settles the deep meaning of terminology employed in legislations, rules and what not. The NALSA Court also endeavored to expound the widely used terms attributed to the trans-community — though the Court’s propriety is another aspect. Even the sky-high intellects conflate these terminologies, but a Court can never afford to be enmeshed. For it is upon the Court to decide and accord rights based on the categorization it employs.

Women- gender; Female- Sex[7]

     To phrase it mildly, the Court committed an error in tangling the most basic conceptual difference between the foregoing terms. It employed the terms interchangeably rendering the judgment less scrutable. Eschewing from further dwelling on this, let’s consider the Court assumed male, female to be genders not sex.

     The Apex court, to some extent, drew an understanding of trans terminology, especially the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ inter alia. 

     The judgment neglected the grammatical aspect of the word ‘transgender’ by employing it at various places as noun instead of adjective. This term is analogous to the adjectival ‘female’ and ‘male’, therefore, its usage as a noun is derogatory to the people belonging to trans-community and reduces them to a mere object.[8]

     Further, the Court defined ‘transgender’ as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity lies outside the pigeonhole compartments of sexual binary. The Court eloquently categorized the Indian trans-community under the set of Hijras[9]. It also entailed male-to-female transgender persons. But then the question poses — what about female-to-male transgender persons (trans-men)? More so, a bare perusal of the directions issued in the judgment further obscure the point. ‘Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as “third gender” for purpose of safeguarding their rights under part III of our Constitution…’[10] Now, this circumscribes rights to Hijras and Eunuchs, while already categorizing the whole community under the rubric of Hjras.

     Interestingly, whilst the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are viewed through the lens of sex, it is only the ‘transgender’ category that is viewed through the lens of gender. As a corollary, transgender should be recognized as the first gender as opposed to third gender. [11]      Indeed, something to ponder over.


‘It is the business of the state… to maintain the conditions without which free exercise of the human faculties is impossible.’[12]

     And what possibly can surpass the liberty to express your ‘individualism.’ Ergo, Justice K.S.P Radhakrishnan. grandiloquently reflected the interplay between Articles 14, 15, 16, 19(1)(a), and 21 of the Constitution. The ensuing paragraphs delineate this interplay.

  • ARTICLE 14[13]: The major argument of the Court revolved around the fact that Article 14 employs the word ‘person’, which, as per the purposive interpretation given by the Court in the instant case, includes not only the Victorian era genders, viz., men and women but also genders outside binary. The Court, therefore, declared that transgender persons enjoy as much equal protection of law and equality before law as other genders.
  • ARTICLES 15[14] & 16[15]: The Court interpreted the word ‘sex’ under Article 15 and 16 so as to entail prohibition on gender bias and gender-based discrimination. It went a step ahead and emphasized that Constitution makers intended to prevent direct or indirect discrimination among people for not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of gender binary. It further recognized that transgender persons are legally entitled safe access to public places under Article 15(2); and benefits of reservation in educational institutions and public appointments as socially and educationally backward classes under Article 15(4), and for that matter under Article 16(4) as backward classes.[16]

     Given the foregoing explication by the Court, can it be inferred that a trans-woman will be entitled to the same special provisions under Articles 15 and 16 as a cisgender woman? The answer to this question is nowhere to be found in the judgment.

     Apart from this, the Court, though in tune with the ‘separation of powers’, passes the buck to the legislature for delineating a reservation policy for this ostracized community. Now, transgender persons may be layered under different caste identities, what if there is a prepossession in favor of a cisgender woman over a transgender woman, when both fall under the same caste reservation bracket? The Court could have glossed on this issue by dealing with horizontal reservations cutting across the vertical categories of caste, but it eschewed from doing so.[17] This, invariably, would lead to further litigation as instantiated in Grace Banu Ganesan v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.[18]

  • ARTICLE 19[19]: ‘Outside gender binary, there are only pathology and disability’[20], this endemic perception has always been repugnant to the moral precepts; and the NALSA judgment discredited all these fallacious norms by extending constitutional rights and protection to transgender persons. The Court unequivocally held that no restriction, save and except those mentioned in Article 19(2), can be placed on one’s personal expression, mannerism and clothing. It relied heavily on two foreign judgments, viz., City of Chicago v. Wilson et al.[21] and Doe v. Yunits et al.[22] which talk about the values of privacy, self-identity and gender expression through cross dressing.[23]
  • ARTICLE 21[24]: Wealth and opulence may be possessions of few, but liberty must be bestowed upon everybody. With this object in mind, the makers of the Constitution drafted Article 21- the heart and soul of Indian Constitution. It entitles every person — which is again a gender-neutral word and thus equally applies to man, woman and transgender persons — not only the right of mere existence but to live with dignity. Concomitantly, self-perceived gender identity and expression — a linchpin of dignified life — falls within the ambit of right to life under Article 21.

     The Hon’ble Supreme Court, while displaying panoply of transformative constitutionalism, in NALSA judgment emphasized the need to read the Constitution as a ‘living document’[25] in light of the present socio-political scenario. The judgment impresses upon the fact that legal recognition of gender identity is a part of right to dignity and freedom; and self-determination of gender is an integral part of personal autonomy, self-expression and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. Hence, any restriction on any person’s liberty to decide zir[26] lived gender,[27] gender identity or expression[28] infracts Article 21.

     Fundamental Rights not only protect individuals and minorities from the whims and vagaries of State action, rather they have also been shaped to protect individuals against transgressions by private citizens. For instance, Article 15(2) foils restriction or disablement of any citizen from accessing to public places on account of zir[29] religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth; Article 17[30] abolishes untouchability; Article 23[31] proscribes forced labor. Thus the State, in addition to conforming to the Constitution’s injunctions not to fetter citizen’s liberties, must also fulfil its duty to protect citizen’s rights from being encroached by the society. This principle is of cardinal importance in case of transgender persons who are constantly subjected to society’s virulent deportment.

     Are fundamental Rights the only safeguard etched in the Constitution? The pat answer is no. If the Fundamental Rights are an edifice, the Directive Principles of State Policies (‘DPSPs’) are the scaffolding that lays a sturdy foundation. One delineates the negative obligations, whereas the other pens down the positive duties of the State. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in NALSA judgment also referred to DPSPs — especially Article 51 dealing with international law — while directing the States to fulfil their obligations. Though DPSPs are not justiciable, they are of equal, if not more, pertinence.[32] Hence the NALSA judgment manifests the Court’s overarching and expansive intendment to tip the scales in favor of equity — which perforce is of first importance.

     This sweeping interpretation of rights can also be witnessed in the rather recent judgment of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[33] wherein the rotten law of ADM Jabalpur[34]was purged. In an eloquent passage, Lord Mansfield opined ‘I care not for the supposed dicta of judges, however eminent, if they be contrary to all principle.’


     The directions given by the Court obscure more than they illuminate. As mentioned previously, the independent reading of first and second direction renders them diametrically opposite. While the first direction recognizes hijras as third gender, the second direction gives transgender persons the right to choose between being ‘female, male or third gender.’ The question is whether hijras also have the right to choose from the binary.[35]

     Other directives like separate toilet facilities, HIV sero-surveillance centers, recognition as socially and educationally backward,[36] medical care facilities, inclusion of transgender persons in society by spreading awareness, and framing of various welfare schemes are impressive and applaud-worthy. However, implementation of such embracing directions will be a herculean task. The orders are so broad and vague, that it would be difficult to hold anyone accountable for their non-compliance.

     Despite the fervent criticism displayed in this article, the judgment has decidedly provided some perspective for discourse over transgender rights in India. And, it is not an end, but only a springboard to travail further. 


     The melancholic tale of Khairati,[37] the tragic victim of rigid gender binary, speaks volumes of the absence of empathy in the colonial courts to comprehend what Khairati experienced. Unfortunately, this absence continued into independent India. The language and dimensions of Constitution never applied to the lives of transgender persons.

     Only when the NALSA Court cracked open this legal mold and refused to categorize humans into an orthodox quagmire of societal identities, formulating an eclectic theory of transgender rights, that the Courts and wider public (NALSA Judgment & Beyond’- survey[38]) began to see transgender community through the lens of dignity. Now that gender identity- the gatekeeper to other rights – has been recognized, the other set of monolithic heresies on same-sex marriage, consensual cohabitation, among other things,[39] must be scotched. No democracy can blossom when contraries are labeled heretics. Now, the onus is upon us to help this downtrodden community to vault from the cavernous depths of marginalization, and soar in the sky of tranquility and contentment, which can only be achieved through social reforms.[40]

     This Internationally hailed case and the resultant legislation[41] are beginning of an end, of the dilemma of a transgender person’s life, beautifully expressed by the illustrious author Arundhati Roy in the following words:


“She, who never knew which box to tick, which queue to stand in, which public toilet to enter (Kings or Queens? Lords or Ladies? Sirs or Hers?)

She, who knew she was all wrong, always wrong.

She, augmented by her ambiguity.”[42]

[1] Arun Kumar and Anr v. Inspector General of Registration and Ors, (2019) SCC OnLine Mad 8779, ¶17; Following the policy of inclusivity, social media platforms like Facebook and Tinder now allow users to choose from 58 and 37 gender identities respectively while signing up.

[2] National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438, ¶81.

[3] Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. ____ (2020)

[4] Motshidiemang v. Attorney General, MAHGB-000591-16; see also, EG v. Attorney General, Petition Nos. 150 and 234 of 2016.

[5] Muhamad Juzaili Bin Mohd Khamis v. State Government of Negeri Sembilan, N-01-498-11/2012.

[6] National legal Services Authority v. Union of India (hereinafter, ‘NALSA’), (2014) 5 SCC 438

[7] GLAAD Media Reference Guide- Transgender, (Last visited on June 25, 2020); see also, Gender Definitions, World health Organisation, Regional Office for Europe, available at (Last visited on June 25, 2020);  Mikkola, Mari, “Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), available at, (Last visited on June 25, 2020); Office of National Statistics (UK), What is the difference between sex and gender?, available at (Last visited on July 3, 2020),

[8] HUMAN LAW RIGHTS NETWORK, People’s Inquiry into the status of the implementation of the NALSA judgment (November 2016), available at (Last visited on June 25, 2020); see also, VIDHI CENTRE FOR LEGAL POLICY, Comments on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, available at, (Last visited on June 25, 2020)

[9] NALSA, at ¶47

[10] NALSA, at ¶135.1

[11] VIDHI CENTRE FOR LEGAL POLICY, Queering the Law: Making Indian Laws LGBT+ Inclusive (July 2019), available at (Last visited on June 25, 2020)


[13] Article 14: Equality before law.

[14] Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

[15] Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment

[16] NALSA, at ¶¶63-68

[17] Tarunabh Khaitan, NALSA v. Union of India: What Courts Say, What Courts Do, UK Constitutional Law Association (April 24, 2014), available at (Last visited on June 25, 2020)

[18] W.P. 6052/2019 (CNR Number: HCMA01-031907-2019)

[19] Article 19: Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.


[21] 75 III.2d 525(1978)

[22] 2000 WL33162199 (Mass. Super.)

[23] NALSA, at ¶¶ 70.1, 70.2.

[24] Article 21: Protection of Life and Personal Liberty

[25] The doctrine of ‘Living Tree’, a Canadian law doctrine describes Constitution as a living document, which keeps evolving with the changing times. The meaning of the Constitution may not be frozen to the perspective when it was adopted.

[26] Gender neutral pronoun used for a person existing outside the binary.

[27] “lived gender” refers to each person’s gender identity and its public expression over a sustained period of time, See Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, 2015 (Republic of Malta) Cl. 2.

[28] “gender expression” refers to each person’s manifestation of their gender identity, and, or the one that is perceived by others, see Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, 2015 (Republic of Malta) Cl. 2.

[29] Supra note 25

[30] Article 17: Abolition of Untouchability

[31] Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.

[32] NALSA, at ¶ 102 (per Dr. A.K. Sikri J.)

[33] Justice (Retd.) K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1

[34] (1976) 2 SCC 521

[35] Tarunabh Khaitan, NALSA v. Union of India: What Courts Say, What Courts Do, UK Constitutional Law Association (April 24, 2014), available at

[36]  John W. Armour, Compenatory Discrimination: The Indian Constitution and Judicial Review, (16) MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 126, 135-136 (1987); See also, The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 342A.

[37] Queen Empress v. Khairati I.L.R. 6 All 205. This was the first reported case of the use of Section 377 against a person described by the Court as a ‘eunuch’. This case goes back to 1884 when a person named Khairati was arrested and tried under section 377 on the grounds of habitually wearing women’s clothes and committing sodomy. Although Khairati was ultimately acquitted by the Court due to the lack of evidence, the key point in the case was the violence and brutality she was subjected to during the legal proceedings.

[38] A survey, ‘NALSA Judgment & Beyond’, was conducted in June 2020 to study the public attitude towards transgender persons post NALSA judgment. The graphical representation of the inference drawn is available at

[39] Uttarakhand High Court in Madhu Bala v. State of Uttarakhand [Habeas Corpus Petition No. 8 of 2020] interpreted the consensual cohabitation between two adults of same sex within the ambit of Article 21(Right to life and Personal Liberty); see also, a Writ Petition filed in Kerala High Court in Jan 2020 wherein the petitioner has prayed for recognition of same-sex marriage under Special Marriage Act, 1954 available at (Last visited on June 25, 2020); Madras High Court in Arun Kumar and Anr v. Inspector General of Registration and Ors, (2019) SCC OnLine Mad 8779 held that a transwoman is a ‘bride’ under Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.          

[40] The Noida Metro Rail Corporation (NMRC) has recently decided to dedicate Noida’s Sector 50 Metro Station to transgender community by renaming it to ‘Rainbow Station’; Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently sought views of paramilitary forces on recruiting transgender people in central paramilitary forces and Indian Army.

[41] Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, 40 of 2019


Analyzing the Indo-China Border Dispute: An International Law Perspective Through the Prism of India


Ishan Kumar is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in legislative laws. He attends Gujarat National Law University(GNLU) in Gandhinagar, India.

Naman Katyal is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in legislative laws. He attends Gujarat National Law University(GNLU) in Gandhinagar, India.


Two of the world’s nuclear powers, India and China are locked in a border dispute in the Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley areas of Eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (“LAC”).[1] The LAC is a demarcation line along the Indo-China border based on the differing perception of the border by both sides and functions as the de-facto border between the two nations since both sides have consistently failed to establish a demarcated border due to China’s refusal to recognize the validity of the Simla Accord of 1914 and the Panchsheel Treaty of 1954 in the eyes of international law.[2]

The dispute turned violent for the first time in 45 years at the largely peaceful border on June 15, 2020, when the Indian side suffered a casualty count of 20 soldiers in a melee with Chinese troops.[3] Reports also indicate that the Chinese side lost 43 soldiers.[4] The Chinese have refused to reveal the exact count.[5]

This article analyzes the Indo-China border dispute by evaluating the validity of the aforementioned treaties in international law through an Indian perspective. The authors postulate that a third-party dispute settlement can be a suitable mechanism through which the dispute could be resolved.

Tracing the Roots

The Indo-China border dispute dates back to the nineteenth century with the first treaty signed between the independent forces of the two nations coming into effect only in 1842.[6] Since then, several attempts have been made to demarcate the boundary between the two nations.

The Simla Accord of 1914 established the McMahon Line as the boundary between the two nations.[7] The Panchsheel Treaty signed in 1954 was another historic agreement between the two sides.[8] However, both the agreements failed to resolve the border dispute and as a consequence the Indo-China war occurred in 1962. During this time, the People’s Liberation Army of China annexed parts of India’s Ladakh region.[9]

Sustained attempts to achieve peace and tranquility at the border resulted in several other agreements in 1993, 1996, 2003, 2005, 2012, and 2013.[10] Nonetheless, the tension at the LAC remains unresolved.

Legitimacy of the Simla Accord the Eyes of International Law

The Simla Accord of 1914 was a treaty negotiated amongst the representatives of British India, the Republic of China, and Tibet to define the boundary between Tibet and British India, as well as Tibet and China.[11] Although China participated in the negotiation of the treaty, it declined to sign the convention and the British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries signed it as a bilateral declaration and denied China any privileges.[12] The boundary between Tibet and British India came to be known as the McMahon Line.[13]

China’s refusal to recognize the Simla Accord as a legally binding treaty primarily stems from this very reason. The fact that no Chinese Central Government ever ratified the treaty also features as one of the objections by China in recognizing the Simla Accord as legally binding.[14] Furthermore, China has also lamented that the Accord was “a product of British policy of aggression against the Tibet Region of China”, [15] and therefore an unequal treaty.[16]

China’s contention that the Chinese plenipotentiary refused to sign the declaration, and, in any case, no Chinese Central Government ever ratified the treaty fails on two grounds. Firstly, the collapse of talks was on the issue of settlement of the border between Tibet and China, not Tibet and British India.[17] Subsequently, a bilateral agreement between Tibet and British India duly defined the boundary between both signatories.[18]  China’s assent was not required to demarcate the boundary between Tibet and British India, as Tibet had control over its foreign affairs in 1914.[19] Secondly, the treaty, per Article 11 of the Accord, was to take effect from the date of signature and no explicit provision of the treaty stipulated ratification.[20]

Even if the Chinese contentions are accepted, even then the subsequent action of incorporating the updated map in official records and successive conduct of not raising the dispute for 45 years (until 1959) after the signing of the treaty belie the Chinese claim.[21] The doctrine of acquiescence requires the acquiescent party to raise any objection to the infringement of its rights and failure to do so can be held against it if the objection is raised after long-term acquiescence.[22] In the Pedra Branca islands dispute case, Singapore’s central argument that for 130 years–that Singapore’s exercise of sovereignty over the islands was not challenged by Malaysia–was accepted by the ICJ and the Sovereignty over the islands recognized to belong to Singapore.[23]

Further, China’s argument that Simla Accord was an unequal treaty given the aggressive policy adopted by the British against China also fails to advance the Chinese contention that Simla Accord cannot be recognized as legally binding. Even if a treaty includes provisions that appear unequal, a party cannot invoke the principle of inequality to invalidate the treaty if there is no coercion or use of force.[24] The Simla Accord came into force after exhaustive negotiations which spanned over a period of six-months and were based on an explicit authorization from the Chinese government.[25] This demonstrates that the Chinese government was under no duress from the British and acted without any inhibitions.

Panchsheel Treaty As a Political Document?

The Panchsheel Treaty is a set of Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence enshrined in the preamble to the “Agreement on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India” which was signed in 1954.[26] The first principle of the treaty envisaged mutual respect for one another’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The treaty was signed after meticulous negotiations with almost all aspects of the Indo-China relations being discussed but no border dispute was raised.[27]

All this put the then Prime Minister of India under the impression that there were no border disputes between the two countries.[28] Meanwhile, China continued to term the treaty as a political document for bargaining bilaterally and not a treaty that would be subjected to interpretations by international courts.[29] The Chinese government’s stand of subverting the treaty does not stand ground in International Law as oral declarations made by government functionaries have been held to be valid and binding. For instance, in the Eastern Greenland case, an oral statement given by Norway’s Foreign Minister was considered by the Permanent Court of International Justice to be binding on Norway. [30]

Moving Towards a Resolution

The Indo-China border dispute has now turned at least 65 years old with no significant breakthrough in defining the border.[31] Even the most rudimentary task of exchanging maps to understand the differing perception of the two nations with respect to the LAC has not been concluded.[32] The prospects of a resolution secured through bilateral arrangements look improbable. Other mechanisms to resolve the dispute need to be considered.

One such recourse could be to make use of a third-party dispute settlement mechanism. The third-party dispute settlement mechanism allows a party that is external to the dispute to help the disputants reach a settlement.[33]  A combined reading of Article 33(1) and 33(2) of the UN Charter authorizes the UN Security Council to call upon the parties to a dispute to resolve their differences through means stated in Article 33(1) (which includes third-party means).[34]

In the past, third-party interventions in dispute settlement have yielded positive results. The Rio Protocol of 1942 was signed by the governments of Peru and Ecuador (the disputants) with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the United States, wherein the latter four nations would act as guarantors for the former two.[35] This agreement led to the successful demarcation of 95% of the disputed border by 1946.[36] Similar instances include the role of the Pope and Algeria in successfully adjudicating the Argentina-Chile Beagle Channel Dispute and the Iran hostage’s crisis, respectively.[37] [38]

Russia could be asked to mediate between India and China by virtue of it sharing cordial relations with both the countries.[39] India and Russia have enjoyed a longstanding “special and privileged strategic partnership. [40] On similar lines, Russia and China have a plethora of common interests, which prominently includes ending the dynamics of the US-dominated unipolar world.[41] Also, Russia has prior experience of attempting to settle the Indo-China border differences, which could be crucial in restoring peace between India and China.[42]


The uncertainty surrounding the border dispute has adversely affected the bilateral relations between India and China. The Indo-China border faceoff has spiraled into a precarious trade war which could have repercussions on the economies of both nations. [43] The situation calls for a thorough revamping of diplomatic channels to overcome differences and ensure the anti-status quo.

Therefore, the two Asian giants must strive to amicably resolve their territorial dispute to avoid hampering their decades-long ties and international repute. The emerging world order after the advent of COVID-19 outbreak may help China and India to settle the boundary stand-off.

Undeniably, the benefits that accrue of settled land borders between the two Asian powerhouses are obvious and of utmost importance. If ever there is a historic opportunity for the two Asian giants to resolve the contested boundary, it is now.

[1] Bagchi I, “Jaishankar to Meet China FM in Virtual RIC Meet on June 22” The Times of India (June 15, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 15, 2020

[2] Krishnan A, “ Line of Actual Control | India-China: the Line of Actual Contest ”The Hindu (June 13, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 15, 2020; Prabhakar Singh, “Sino–Indian Attitudes to International Law: of Nations, States and Colonial Hangovers” 3(2) Chinese Journal of Comparative Law

[3] Krishnan A, “Forgotten in Fog of War, the Last Firing on the India-China Border ”The Hindu (June 14, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 16, 2020.; Safi M and Davidson H, “ Soldiers Fell to Their Deaths as India and China’s Troops Fought with Rocks” The Guardian (June 17, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 17, 2020

[4] “Galwan Valley: India and China Downplay Reports of Soldier Release” BBC News (June 19, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 16, 2020

[5] “China Suffered 43 Casualties in Violent Face-off in Galwan Valley, Reveal Indian Intercepts” Hindustan Times (June 17, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 17, 2020

[6] “Ladakhi Letter of Agreement (1842)” (Tibet Justice Center) &lt;; accessed June 18, 2020

[7] Gupta K, “The McMahon Line 1911–45: The British Legacy” (1971) 47 The China Quarterly 521

[8] ‘The Five Principles’ (Ministry of foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 14 June 2014) < > accessed 27 June 2020

[9] “India-China War of 1962: How It Started and What Happened Later” India Today (November 21, 2016) &lt;; accessed June 19, 2020

[10] Gill P, “India Says There Are Five Treaties to Push the Chinese Army behind the Line of Actual Control⁠ — While Experts Tell Modi to Remain Cautious” Business Insider (May 29, 2020) &lt;; accessed June 19, 2020

[11] “Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, Simla (1914)” (Tibet Justice Center) &lt;; accessed June 20, 2020

[12] Mehra P, “A Forgotten Chapter in the History of the Northeast Frontier: 1914–36” (1972) 31 The Journal of Asian Studies 299

[13] Ibid.

[14] Surya P Sharma, ‘The India-China Border Dispute: An Indian Perspective’ (1965) 59 Am J Int’l L 16

[15] Ibid.

[16] “100 Years after Simla Accord, Its Historical Impact Is Still Debated” (Canada Tibet Committee April 28, 2014) &lt;; accessed June 22, 2020

[17] (n 11).

[18] Ibid.

[19] (n 14).

[20] (n 11).

[21] Green LC, “Legal Aspects of the Sino-Indian Border Dispute” (1960) 3 The China Quarterly 42

[22] I C MacGibbon, “The Scope of Acquiescence in International Law” (1954) 31 Brit YB Int’l L 143

[23] (2003) ICJ 146.

[24] Jiangfeng Li, “Equal or Unequal: Seeking a New Paradigm for the Misused Theory of Unequal Treaties in Contemporary International Law” (2016) 38 Hous J Int’l L 465

[25] (n 14).

[26] (n 8).

[27] Stahnke AA, “The Place of International Law in Chinese Strategy and Tactics: The Case of the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute” (1970) 30 The Journal of Asian Studies 95,

[28] Ibid.

[29] Prabhakar Singh, “Sino–Indian Attitudes to International Law: of Nations, States and Colonial Hangovers” 3(2) Chinese Journal of Comparative Law

[30] 1933 P.C.I.J. (ser. A/B) No. 53.

[31] Singh VK, “Resolving the Boundary Dispute” (India Seminar2006) &lt;; accessed July 1, 2020

[32] Krishnan A, “It Took China Just Three Weeks since PM Modi’s Visit to Snub His Efforts to Clarify the LAC. The Neighbours Now Face Yet Another Stalemate in Resolving the Boundary Issue.” India Today (June 11, 2015) &lt;; accessed July 1, 2020

[33] Bilder RB, “International Third Party Dispute Settlement” (2020) 17 Denver Journal of International Law &amp; Policy

[34] UN Charter, art 33(1).

[35] Simmons BA, “Territorial Disputes and Their Resolution The Case of Ecuador and Peru” [1999] United States Institute of Peace

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Chile, Argentina Sign Protocol on Beagle ”The Washingtom Post (October 19, 1984) &lt;; accessed July 2, 2020

[38] Howe M, “Wary Algeria Edged Into Pivotal Role” The New York Times (January 26, 1981) &lt;; accessed July 2, 2020

[39] “Russia as India-China Mediator: How Soviets, Mao’s China Split over India in 1950s-60s” The Week (June 23, 2020) &lt;; accessed July 3, 2020

[40] Center M, “Joint Statement: Celebrating a Decade of the India- Russian Federation Strategic Partnership and Looking Ahead” (Ministry of External Affairs December 21, 2010) &lt;; accessed July 2, 2020

[41] Wong K-H, “How Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Affect Russia-China Relations? ”The Diplomat (March 14, 2020) &lt;; accessed July 3, 2020

[42] (n 39).

[43] Misra U, “Explained: Why China Trade Ban Will Hurt India More” The Indian Express (June 22, 2020) &lt;; accessed July 2, 2020