The right to use the Catalan language in education

An in-depth analysis on the compliance of Spain’s national laws in accordance with the European Regional level


Under the rule of dictator Franco, students were not allowed to learn Catalan due to an outright language ban. The prolonged hardship of four decades finally halted with his death in 1975. As a result, the post-Franco era saw a resurrection of Catalan.

The Spanish Constitution 1978(Constitution), under Art.3(1), mentions Castilian as the official language. Additionally, it recognises “other Spanish languages” under Art.3(2). They refer to the minority languages Catalan, Basque and Galician, which are also co-official languages of Spain. Catalan is spoken in many areas but mainly in Catalonia, the Balearic islands, and Valencia.

Additionally, statutes were tailored for the specific autonomous communities. Subsequently, the 1979 Statute of Autonomy of Cataloniawas created. At the EU level, Spain has assumed international legal obligations toward protecting the linguistic rights of the Catalan minorities in the educational context.

Generally, the fundamental means of preserving these rights is attributable to a well- functioning educational system. The compulsory stage notably begins at the elementary level. However, recently Catalan was constitutionally challenged, which instigated fear of another suppression of their linguistic rights.The European framework governing the right to use minority languages in primary education

At the European level, the leges speciales, comprise the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (Charter) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities(FCNM), whereby Spain ratified both.

The European framework governing the right to use minority languages in primary education

At the European level, the leges speciales, comprise the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages9 (Charter) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities10 (FCNM), whereby Spain ratified both.

The Charter

According to De Witte11, the core attribute of the Charter is its “à la carte approach”, whereby Member States (MS) have a discretion to choose which regional/minority languages they wish to protect according to the different provisions.

Art.8 deals specifically with education. Art.8(1) states that “…the Parties undertake, within the territory in which such languages are used, … and without prejudice to the teaching of the official language(s) of the State:”. In effect, Art.8(1) relates solely to the territory where each regional/minority language is practised12. The interpretation of this provision is set as a condition, in that Parties can only provide the minority language as long as it does not disrupt the parallel teaching of the official language.

In relation to primary level education, Spain has assumed its obligations under Art.8(1)(b)(i) and Art.(8)(1)(h). The former states that MS are required “to make available primary education in the relevant regional or minority languages.”. The latter conveys that they are required “to provide the basic and further training of the teachers required to implement…” the said provisions to which the MS have accepted.

In regard to Art.8(1)(b)(i), this implies that MS are required to provide the minority language at the primary level. Additionally, Art.8(1)(h), is an equivalent provision for teachers, which completes the whole process of “making the language available”, as MS arrequired to  ensure the competence of their teaching staff at this level.


Under the FCNM, there are no provisions specific to primary education. Instead, the relevant articles cover linguistic rights at all levels. In contrast to the Charter, the characteristic of these articles embraces a collective aspect rather than individualised components13.

According to Thornberry14, the sub-articles of Art.12 FCNM are interconnected when dealing with the curriculum, inter-communal educational contacts, and access to education. Art.12(1) is a firm injunction that compels MS to take actions in the fields of education where “appropriate”, “…to foster knowledge” of both the minority languages and that of the majority. In essence, Art.12(1) must be executed in a critical and objective way, that is free from ideological manipulation such as xenophobic concepts and delivered with value to human rights15.

Additionally, Art.12(2) requires that MS shall “inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teaching and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among student and teachers of different communities.”. The term “inter alia” enables a widened scope for MS to materialise its obligations under Art.12(1). Additionally, “facilitate” refers to simplifying the process of socialisation.

Lastly, Art.12(3) is based on the principle of equality. It necessitates that MS “…promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities.”. This provision can be interpreted in two ways, either it implies that all national minorities are given the same equal rights, or that national minorities are given the same equal rights as that of the majority.

Furthermore, Art.14(1) obligates MS to allow a national minority to learn their language. It states that “…every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.”. Additionally, Art.14(2) reiterates “adequate opportunities” in relation to being taught or to “receive instruction” in the “minority language”. Although, Art.12(3) acts as a caveat to Art.14(2) in that it can only be activated as long as it does not prejudice the learning/teaching of the official language of the State. In effect, the whole provision is directly aimed at education by the use of the terms “learn” and “teach”. Hence, Art.14 FCNM protects not only the linguistic rights but also the identity of the national minorities16.

Therefore, at the European level, both instruments complement each other in terms of guaranteeing a wide scope of protection to the linguistic rights attached to the use of minority languages at a primary level of education.

The Spanish national laws governing the right to use Catalan in primary education

With the education system being decentralised in Spain, the Autonomous Communities are given constitutional powers to control education. This entails that the Generalitat (the Catalonian Government), inter alia, bears an obligation to protect linguistic rights in education17.

The Regional laws

The leges speciales applicable to primary education are The Reform of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia 200618 (Estatut) and The Linguistic Policy Act 199819(LPA). Under the Estatut, the relevant provision is Art.35, “Linguistic rights in the field of education”, which corresponds to Chapter III, “Education” of the LPA, more precisely, Art.20, “The language of education” and Art.21, “Non-university education” and Art.24, “Teaching staff”. Therefore, they shall be examined by themes.

The right to use Catalan in primary education is derived from Art.35(1)-(2) of the Estatut and Art.20, Art.21(1), and Art.21(3) of the LPA. Both Art.35(1)-(2) establish the right for every person “to receive an education in Catalan” at the “non-university level”. The term “non- university” refers to all education below this level which includes the primary level.

Furthermore, Art.35(2), in respect to the students, combines both a right and an obligation “to have sufficient oral and written knowledge of Catalan and Castilian upon completing compulsory education…”. Additionally, the said provision provides that both languages “…shall be sufficiently represented in the curricula.”. Art.21(3) guarantees the same but with reference to “teaching” instead of “learning”.

Upon completion of their primary education, students are granted a school-leaving certificate on the condition that they are proficient in both Catalan and Castilian20. Hence, both statutes systematically support the right to be educated at a primary level.

Moreover, the powerful combination of the right and obligation under the Estatut presents the following legal implication. The stringency of the obligation holds a higher threshold than “duty”21. Therefore, reinforcing the normative practises of the legal entitlement provided by the right. The obligation further insulates the said right by its legally binding attribute22. Thus, clearly aiming at its preservation.

In addition to Catalan being recognised as the official language of Catalonia together with Castilian23, it is also the “own language”24 which means native to Catalonia. The rights attached to its native and official value are derived from Art.6 of the Estatut which conveys that Catalan “…is the language of normal use for teaching and learning in the education system.” This notion is further carried under Art.35(1) of the Estatut, Art.20(2) and Art.21(1) of the LPA.

Under the provisions, the LPA emphasises the “vehicular” characteristic of Catalan as a means to achieve its normalisation in the bilingual model. Art.20(2) further requires

“educational establishments at all levels” to use Catalan “in their educational and administrative activities, both internally and externally.”. This implies that the ambit of the rights is not limited to elementary classrooms. The word “externally” denotes that Catalan extends to extra-curricular activities. Additionally, as Costa25 conveys, references to “non- university” under the Estatut and “all educational establishments” cover private and public schools. Reciprocally, the linguistic rights are further enhanced by Art.24(1), ensuring the competence of teachers. The teaching staff must “know” Catalan and Castilian and apply them to their “teaching tasks”.

In terms of prohibition of discrimination, both Art.35(3) of the Estatut and Art.21(5) of the LPA state that students shall not be separated, be it in centres or class groups, on the grounds of their habitual language. In essence, this provision protects against the “individualised treatment”26, which can occur in two ways either by treating Castilian as superior to Catalan or vice versa. Given the vulnerable age of students at the primary level, that is from six to twelve, these provisions are fundamental and facilitate the enjoyment of the rights.

Hence, it is evident that the leges speciales, the linguistic rights provide for full validation and legal effectiveness to any primary school students practising those rights.

The Constitution

By virtue of all Catalonians being Spanish citizens, the right to education is protected in a more general manner under the Constitution. Art.27(1) notably states that, “Everyone has the right to education…”. Art.27(4) further conveys that “Elementary education is compulsory and free.”. Hence, Art.27 interpreted in light of the constitutional acknowledgement of the statutes in the autonomous communities, confers that the scope of protection extends to the linguistic rights in education being protected also under the Constitution.

The compliance with the European regional level of Spain’s national laws regarding the right to use the Catalan language in education

While Spain does not formally recognise national minorities under its Constitution and legal system28, the State still acknowledges its international obligations to preserve and respect the linguistic rights of those minorities29. However, Catalonians were of the view that the constitutional challenges to Catalan were an obstruction to these rights.

The Legal Challenges

Despite the Estatut approved by the Catalonian and Spanish governments and a binding referendum, the Constitutional Court’s ruling in 201030 declared Art.6(1) of the Estatut, as unconstitutional. In addition to Catalan being the “language of normal use”, it was previously also the language of “preferential use”31. The Court stated that it imposed “…the prescription of a priority use of one of them…”32. The term was consequently struck out. This decision directly impacted on Art.35(1)-(2) of the Estatut as they are now to be interpreted in accordance with the ruling.

Since Catalan is the native language of Catalonia, it predominantly suggests that it is “preferential”. Consequently, the sentiment was that Spain had acted ultra vires, as it defeated the notion of “own language”. In effect, the bilingual model does not imply that both languages are taught in equal proportions, rather that both are included in the educational system33. The Catalonian linguistic regime notably, treats Castilian as a language immersed into the curricula34. Nonetheless, the ruling declared that “Castilian is to be introduced as the language of instruction “proportionately and equally to Catalan at all class levels.”35. Thus, perceived as highly prejudicial to Catalan.

In 2021, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered the Generalitat to provide for at least twenty- five percent of teaching hours for the main subjects36. Where Castilian, in the existing linguistic model, only formed part of five to ten percent of the teaching hours, which amounts to approximately two hours per week at the elementary level.

Compliance with the Charter

Nevertheless, the Committee of Experts’ (CoE) assessment, in its third report38, conveyed that the 2010’s ruling did not affect Spain’s compliance with the Charter “especially with respect to education”39. According to the CoE’s assessment40 and Ramallo’s41, Spain in choosing “(b)(i)” (first sub-paragraph), implies a high level of commitment which normally entails satisfying also (ii) and (iii)42. Those sub-paragraphs require Spain to provide a “substantial part” of the education at primary level in Catalan, and the teaching forming “…an integral part of the curriculum”43.

Therefore, in reference to “make available”, under Art.(b)(i) of the Charter, the CoE deduced that the ruling had essentially set a precedent for parents to have the discretion to allow their children to be educated in Castilian only and that Catalan was to be considered optional44. Additionally, the commitment under Art.8(h) entails that it accounts for any discrepancies in the “de facto situation of regional or minority languages”45. In Catalonia, this would refer to normalising the education of Castilian in parallel to Catalan. The selection of the said provision further implies that Spain has chosen a provision which wording46 adapts to the legal framework applied to Catalan in Catalonia

Nevertheless, the CoE still requested Spain to report on how the ruling impacted on Catalan. As a matter of fact, the CoE’s fourth48 and fifth report49, had assessed that Spain indeed guaranteed Catalan in primary education. Therefore, fulfilling all of its obligations in respect to the selected provisions under Art.8 of the Charter

Compliance with the FCNM

In contrast to the above reports, all five FCNM reports submitted by Spain, specifically focus on the Roma Community. However, the Advisory Committee (AC) conveys, that this does not limit the protection of rights of other Communities.

The notion of “equality”54 in terms of access to education under Art.12 of the FCNM, notably entails that, the latitude of the rights are not limited to the learning/teaching of Catalan in classrooms. The scope of protection of these rights extend to “educational activities outside regular school hours.”.

In effect, Art.20(2) LPA provides for “external activities”. The provision is further reinforced by Art.44 of the Estatut, “Education, research and culture”, whereby public authorities have a duty to “promote and encourage” family members and provide access to “extra-curricular educational activities”. This implies that when primary school students leave their classrooms, they are legally provided the right to practise Catalan in whichever activities they please. The right for students ultimately gives rise to opportunities for teachers. Therefore, the Spanish laws not only conform with the FCNM, but are construed to preserve the language by its active stimulation.

In accordance with Art.14 of the FCNM both the LPA 1998 and the Estatut are coherent in conveying the “right to learn”58 Catalan. The term is synonymous to “the right to receive an education in Catalan” under the Estatut and the notion follows under the provisions of the LPA which guarantee the right to use Catalan in education. Additionally, The AC elucidated that it assessed whether national minorities were given the right to learn their “own language” and if there were any limitations to the exercise of the said right59. In effect, the right to use their “own language” is found under both statutes with the only condition being that it does not prejudice Castilian. The principle of equality is evidently enshrined in both statutes given that the bilingual linguistic equilibrium is vehemently iterated. Hence, the Spanish laws comply with Art.14 of the FCNM


To conclude, the Charter’s à la carte method enabled Spain the discretion to choose obligations positively in accordance with primary education under Art.8. The CoE reports, notably, reflected the consecutive fulfilments and compliance. Despite the constitutional battles that directly impacted the primary level of education, the guarantee of the Catalan language and its rights to Catalonia remain unchanged. Additionally, the right to know their own language did not neglect Castilian and its rights in the reintegration of the bilingual educational system, which is a prerequisite under the Charter.

Concerning the FCNM, the Estatut and the LPA, conformed at a more profound level than the mere literal wording of the provisions. Thus, allowing primary school students the right to enjoy Catalan above and beyond the rigid school framework.

Lastly, the provisions under the national laws, in letter and spirit, aim to protect the rights and preserve them. Thus, overall, Spain’s national laws are in full compliance at the European regional level.

By Samia Mallam-Hasham

Education in indigenous languages resists

Photo by Junior Machado on

In Peru, there are 48 native languages and approximately 28,000 bilingual schools, within the modalities of regular basic school, alternative basic school and special basic school, serving more than 1,200,000 students nationwide, at the pre-school, primary and secondary levels.

In order to continue with the proposals for progress in rural bilingual education policies, within the Peruvian Ministry of Education there is the Directorate of Alternative Basic Education, Intercultural Bilingual Education and Educational Services in Rural Areas, which, through its professionals, is responsible for designing and proposing improvements in education in rural areas, through proposals for educational improvements and training for bilingual teachers, in order to ensure the education of thousands of students in an inclusive manner and to avoid school dropout.

However, despite continuous efforts, the lack of budget and bilingual teachers only widens the inequality gap. Furthermore, the ongoing political crisis in the country not only generates an atmosphere of uncertainty in general, but it also stops further proposals and investments in order to meet the main demands of students from indigenous peoples.

Rural bilingual schools are not only spaces for the dissemination of academic knowledge, but also of ancestral knowledge. Peruvian indigenous peoples are spaces in which there is a living culture of ancestral knowledge, which is passed down from generation to generation. Ensuring bilingual education through teacher training, funding, educational policies, but above all respect for ancestors who have resisted through the centuries, would contribute to reducing the inequality and indifference with which these peoples have been living. The current political situation, and the current violation of human rights in the country, especially in sectors where there is a high presence of indigenous people (the Department of Puno is the most affected, with citizens murdered during the demonstrations against the current president and is home to the Quechua and Aymara population), only affects a student community that is faced with indifference, lack of basic services to study and lack of quality education; However, it also empowers students who are aware that they are the voice of the future and seek to be heard in order to feel included in a country that is highly centralised in the capital Lima.

The challenges facing the Peruvian state in order to ensure the development of students from indigenous peoples is to continue to coordinate with various institutions such as the Ministry of Culture (which has a directorate that promotes policies for the protection of indigenous peoples), civil associations that have a professional staff to meet the main demand for social projects, curators who would help students to continue generating spaces for dialogue and ancestral knowledge, enhancing through education everything they have learned through their community sages; But above all, the Ministry of Education must ensure educational policies that ensure that students can receive the same quality education that students who have Spanish as their mother tongue receive.

The 48 native languages resist in a country that seems to be more and more indifferent every day and whose colonial construction still persists. However, what Peruvian society does not count on is a large native student community, who through meetings try to make their own demands visible, try to denounce open secrets that are like assassinations of community leaders defending their territories, as well as systematic violence that they constantly experience. Rural schools are therefore not only spaces of knowledge, but also of resistance, in the face of a country that looks at them with indifference.      

Ana Claudia Baltazar Diaz


On 7 December, the former president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, was removed from office by the Peruvian Congress after a failed coup attempt. This event sparked a series of nationwide protests, which have so far left more than 25 people dead, including minors. But what are the Peruvian people demanding? 

The main demand is the resignation of the current president Dina Boluarte, who has so far repressed the protesters by giving freedom to the Peruvian army and the police to disperse any demonstration against the government using any measure of force, which is anti-democratic. It also calls for the elections to be brought forward to the current year (it has been approved to be brought forward to April 2024), the dissolution of the congress and the creation of a new constituent assembly.

Last weekend, during protests in the city of Juliaca, capital of the department of Puno, a series of police abuses were reported, including an injured reporter, who said the following: 

“At around 3 o’clock in the afternoon I was covering the protests, where I was recording (photographing) demonstrators and the police. I was on the wall of that bypass (level crossing), on the edge, to be able to see the confrontation between the police and the demonstrators. At that moment I was sending photos, I stopped to look at my mobile phone and I saw that I was hit by a blunt object. When it hit me, my leg went numb and then it started to bleed through my trousers. I pull up my trousers and I see a hole (at that moment), I was calm and also scared. When the demonstrators noticed it, some said it was buckshot, others said it was a bullet, but I didn’t really know what it was. They carried me to a little market ten steps away and there they began to treat me with bandages, clean the blood and put a tourniquet on my leg.”

The journalist received police threats, including death threats. This is a serious violation of human rights and an aggression towards the independent media, who in view of the lack of biased reporting by the mainstream media, report by getting involved in the protests and taking pictures of the various acts of violence that are taking place. However, this is only one of several events that have been recorded.

Demonstrations at the national level show human rights violations in the form of arbitrary arrests, use of tear gas, use of firearms by the police. Some of the deaths recorded during Dina Boluarte’s first month in office have been civilians who have been trying to help injured demonstrators. The constant repression has left children, adults and elderly people dead, without leaving dialogue open.

Protesting is a right. No human being should be violated for raising his or her voice against a regime. What is happening in Peru is a dictatorship: a president who uses force to silence the voice of the people, no space for dialogue to reach an agreement with the citizens, police who abuse their power, media that transmit messages of hatred towards the demonstrators.

Social inequality in Peru has always been latent. Today the forgotten voices are making themselves heard in the midst of a centralist, unequal and classist country. Infringing their rights through aggression and death only further widens the existing inequality gap. It is necessary to raise our voices to ensure that the right to protest is respected, however, through a dictatorship it is unfortunate to know that the only thing that is guaranteed is repression and death.

Photo Source

Ana Claudia Baltazar Diaz

An analysis of academic feminist criticisms of the provisions of international humanitarian law relating to women in armed conflict

Photo by Ahmed akacha on

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) founded on the concept of jus in bello, strives in regulating armed conflict and aims in protecting non-combatants against belligerents. In situations of armed conflict, there is a complete and ultimate breach of the rule of law whereby the impact on beings is so drastic that it promptly leads to a barbaric behavioural change. Consequently, women and girls are the main target of uncivilised norms in times of war which most commonly take the form of gender-based violence. They notably face manifest violations that are discriminatory and disproportional as to their rights because of their gender and sex.

In parallel, the advancement of IHL rules, has recognised that women are more prone to certain types of violence and as a result designed special laws (lex specialis) for these victims. The scope of prosecution has also, been widened for gender-based crimes. For instance, in Akayesu whereby the ICTR in 1998 set a milestone in adding Rape as an element of genocide and as a Crime Against Humanity. Nevertheless, these IHL Rules, have been subject to various criticisms by different schools of thoughts on whether these laws are adequate in protecting women and/or are properly enforced.

The basis of this analysis will thus evaluate dichotomous feminist critiques of IHL rules from the Revision and Enforcement School of thoughts, in relation to Rape and Sexual violence directed at women during international armed conflicts and evaluate whether they are outdated.

As such, the spearheading IHL rules and provisions surrounding the protection of women in relation to Rape and Sexual violence that shall form the basis of this analysis are firstly, Article 27, paragraph 2 of the Geneva Convention (GC) IV 1949, which states that: “Women must be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any other form of indecent assault.”. Secondly, Article 76(1) of the Additional Protocol (AP) I of the Geneva Conventions, complements this provision by stating that: “Women must be the object of special respect and must be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault”.

The Revision School of thought

The first school of thought calls for a reform of the IHL rules and the criticisms made are derived from a mindset that women are dominated by a global patriarchal system since time immemorial. The rules are therefore, interpreted in such a way as to bring to surface the underlying flair of masculinity veiled in those provisions.

For instance, Gardam’s interpretation of the notion of a woman’s honour, in the wording and tenor of the Art.27, is that it is created by men for their own needs and overlooks the perception women have on sexual violence i.e., that Rape affects them both physically and psychologically. Bennoune and Crowe share similar thoughts, as they argue that instead of enunciating the protection of women as to their bodily integrity, it pejoratively connotes the respect owed to women in the conservation of their chastity and modesty. Since, in contrast, the reference to a man’s honour withholds positive attributes such as bravery, strength and independence.

The issue in practice, as to the undesirable prejudice women suffer, has serious implications as it would infer that a woman survivor of Rape in times of armed conflicts, bears the consequences of being dishonored and judge in society as being impure given that Art.27, inextricably draws a correlation between a woman’s honor and her sexuality.

However, Bennoune, distinguishes the drafting of Art.76 as it centers the attention towards human dignity rather than honor.

Although, a very simplistic interpretation of Art.27, could also be that ‘honor’ refers to preserving the value and dignity and women should remain untouched, which humbly draws in the physical aspect of the crime. After all, the fact that there is a lex specialis in the Geneva Convention, irrespective of the wording, demonstrates that there is a special attention given to the need in safeguarding those victims. The aim of Art.27 is strictly to protect women from an objective standpoint.

Thus, an over interpretation and biasness towards the rules not being derived from a gender equal standpoint is erroneous. Since, the level of subjectivity inculcated, not only creates an ambiguity but also has no bearing in the scope of protection accorded.

Additionally, feminists in critiquing the rules, bear in mind that, during armed conflicts, the anarchy that immerses, heightens the instigation of gender-based and sexual violence to the extent that perpetrators are not only the enemies but also the allies. It is a known fact that even UN Peacekeepers have been involved in sexual misconducts as part of their peacekeeping operations. As a matter of fact, Aoi, De Coning and Thakur are, of the view that armed conflicts change the sexual and psychosocial behaviour. As a total collapse in law and order, and the socio-economic factors creates a ‘permissive environment’ since the maintenance of norms disintegrate given the absence of the natural checks and balances system.

Therefore, in analysing the lack of prohibition, feminists are vehemently conscious that the Rape and Sexual violence during those times are significantly more drastic than in times of peace.

Additionally, one other main criticism of Art. 27 and Art. 76, is that they deal only with the protection of women and fail in prohibiting Rape and Sexual violence. Chinkin conveys that they do not “impose a blanket prohibition against sexual abuse but rather oblige States to offer women protection against attacks on their honor and to accord them special respect”. Furthermore, the reasoning follows that, even though both men and women can be raped, women are more vulnerable, and the aftermath is much greater to endure. For instance, as a consequent of being raped, a woman is disposed to unwanted pregnancies, shame and the fear of not being accepted in her community anymore.

Bennoune’s view however, is nuanced from Chinkin, as she believes that Art.27 and Art.76, are scarce in terms of mirroring the violent feature of the crime as it concentrates more on pregnancy and sexual violence instead of patronymically displaying the multi- dimensional impacts of the crime, as also conveyed by Gardam.

However, as the ICRC factually stated, women and men face different menaces during those situations. For instance, men are more likely to be killed on the field whereas women are more prone to sexual violence. Therefore, the reason as to why the rules emphasise the threat to the reproductive features.

Furthermore, Gardam’s view on the lack of prohibitive measures and sanctions of Rape under Art. 27 and Art. 76, is such that it weakens the applicability of the laws. In isolation, Rape and Sexual violence crimes are not serious enough to form part of the definition of “Grave Breaches” under Art.147 of the GC IV. Crowe suggests that this is due to the sentiment of a general indifference.

Nevertheless, Gardam, acknowledges that Rape can amount to the other elements of the definition of “Grave Breaches”. The criticism stems from the fact that Rape amounting to torture for instance, is a question of interpretation as has previously been done by the ICTY in Celebici and in Furundzija for example.

However, in the latter, the tribunal explicitly stated that Rape in time of war is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols. Additionally, it is important to note the intertwining of IHL rules and despite Rape not forming part of the definition of Grave Breaches per se, the ICC Statute has codified Rape and Sexual violence under Art.8(2)(xxii) which out rightly states that “rape…or any form of sexual violence” amounts to a Grave Breach of the Geneva Conventions and under Art. 7(1)(g) as a Crime against Humanity.

The question of interpretation should further be considered, as complementary to the existing rules as they aid in further developing the definition of Rape and Sexual violence. For instance, the Musema case, referred to Furundzija in including “oral penetration” whilst also making use of the definition set forth in Akayesu and stated that rape unmistakably includes oral penetration since, “the essence of rape is not the particular details of the body parts and objects involved, but rather the aggression that is expressed in a sexual manner under conditions of coercion.”

Therefore, these arguments are redundant as they do not holistically take into consideration the other legal regimes, cases or provisions that should be read in conjunction to determine the protection accorded by IHL. Since it is evident, that IHL rules combined with the jurisprudence of the ICC and the Ad-Hoc Tribunals do provide extensive material concerning Rape and Sexual violence. As Copelon states, ““[p]prosecuting rape as a grave breach should effectively expand the meaning of the Conventions and Protocols and obviate the need for formal amendment””.

The Enforcement School of thought

Another school of thought on these IHL rules is that ““[i]f women have to bear so many of the tragic effects of armed conflict, it is not primarily because of any shortcomings in the rules protecting them, but because these rules are all too often not observed””. In essence, this school of thought conveys that the laws themselves are adequate but lack enforcement. As a matter of fact, it holds that men and women should be seen as equals. The ICRC argues that women should not be seen as vulnerable even in times of conflict. The interpretations that this school provides blatantly contrast with those previously mentioned.

In terms of the inherent discrimination criticism by the Revision school, Durham retaliates by stating that, those lex specialis are specifically designed to ensure the survival of women during the harshest times. Therefore, the whole scrutiny from a gender inequality standpoint counteracts the real objective of IHL. Since IHL is not construed to regulate social structure and as a result does not give way for a deeper social analysis. Furthermore, Liesbeth Lijnzaad contributes to this outlook as she is of the view that it is impractical to expect that IHL encompasses all types of gender issues during times of armed conflict when societies in times of peace fail to.

Moreover, as to the view that those IHL rules do not prohibit gender-based crimes, Quénivet counterargues that “protection” in IHL, should be interpreted as prohibition. Since the basis of the GC and the APs are to shield women unconditionally, thus it implies that the prohibition of those crimes forms parts of those rules.

Hence, it is manifestly absurd to consider that the rules disadvantage women, not to mention that none of them deal in as much detail for men. It is evident that, the sub- categorisation of the types of women victims under the GC is purposefully drafted to adequately provide for them in terms of both prohibition and protection as outlined by Quénivet.

An impartial gendered-equality scrutiny on those feminist critiques will indicate that none of them mention the fact that Rape and Sexual violence rules specific to men are virtually inexistent since they are always justified as being universal. Therefore, an overall gender- neutral approach would be to consider the lex specialis for women as a regime to counteract different permutations of issues that can arise rather than those drafted solely based on them being females.

Nevertheless, Durham and O’Byrne, in terms of protection argue that the pragmatic solution to resolve the lack of enforcement is through ‘soft laws’ instead of revising the existing IHL rules namely, the United Nations Security Council 1325 Resolution (Resolution) and the CEDAW.

The adoption of the CEDAW is particularly seen to mend the gaps of gender-based violence between the mainstream human rights treaties. As such, it regularly monitors implementation of the Resolution at State-level. Additionally, General Recommendation No.30, notably, serves as a guide for Member States to carry out their due diligence in relation to women’s rights in situations of armed conflicts.

Furthermore, the Resolution, prominently addresses “…the need to implement fully international humanitarian and human rights law that protects the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts”. Additionally, it emphasises the need to take special measures to protect women from gender-based violence. Therefore, as Cohn conveys, “…1325 puts women squarely in the center of efforts to end armed conflicts and creates sustainable peace.”

However, these supplementary protections even though, in theory strive in detail at practically helping women in those situations, they are also criticised for lacking enforcement. For instance, the Security Council is in fact not a monitoring body and as such, does not have a “mandate, function and means for holding all UN member states accountable to its thematic resolutions”as pointed out by Rourke and Swaine.

Furthermore, in responding to the disparagement on the lack of enforcement the Security Council tends to adopt subsequent resolutions instead of practically solving the issue at hand. As a result, it leads to a reiteration.

The issue with the CEDAW, on the other hand although being a monitoring body, can only be acceded via ratification. The Revision school, in particular, Charlesworth and Chinkin accurately convey that “some states have used the reservation mechanism effectively to hollow out the heart of their formal obligations”. Hence, those reservations are in reality a loophole for States to circumvent their responsibilities and to be held accountable. Therefore, by default the Convention is not only ineffective in terms of monitoring States but evidently unenforceable.

Thus, it is clear that these mechanisms are but illusionary, as even though they emphasise on the specific issues of gender-based violence in armed conflict and the need for States to observe their obligations of women’s rights, they are rhetoric.


Ultimately, both schools share the same values and intentions towards levelling up protection for women in armed conflict. To answer the question of whether these rules are fit for purpose in the 21st Century based on the above analysis, the straightforward answer is in the affirmative. The revision school of thought does demonstrate to some level that the language used is archaic and old-fashioned as it does not resonate with strong, independent women in modern times.

However, the school’s interpretation and implication of women requiring chivalric protection from men has no legal structure and is biased. As analysed, the language has no impact on the numerous scopes of their applications as perpetrators can be held criminally liable and prosecuted as seen via the Ad-Hoc tribunals and the ICC Statute.

In addition, the evolution in the jurisprudence of IHL rules have enabled Rape and Sexual violence, in different situations of armed conflict globally to be scrutinised in depth and have given women the justice deserved at the time needed and progress continues to be made.

The enforcement school of thought has notably, made it clear that the rules are suitable for women in this era. Evidently, in every legal regime the execution of laws is criticised as there is not one system that has ever reached a Utopian level, even less in times of armed conflict.

After all, the aim of IHL rules and the supplementary soft laws, focus on minimising the damage inflicted on women in armed conflicts and enable the issues to be examined through a multi-dimensional lens. Therefore, even though, they are criticized for a lack of enforcement, a flawless system during a time of magnified chaos is simply unrealistic. Thus, women are indeed accorded as much protection as can be provided for in this day and age.


Italian Youth Deviance Intervention

The Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice, with Transcrime Research Center and Sacro Cuore University made a wonderful job in studying and reporting the presence and activity of baby gangs in Italy.

With the Scentific Committee of the Human Advisor Project we decide to activate a program of intervention about this phenomenon, working of what we elaborated could be the most important cause: Italian Young Generation is completely lost and not listened to, from years.

For that, our program aims to get in touch with young generations in difficult areas, mix with them, get to know them, listen to them (focusing on the North-East of Italy) and better understand the phenomenon and the possible intervention that need to be implemented, mostly about education but also about education to self-awareness, compassion, mindfulness and emotional intelligence, making them aware of the world they are creating for themselves and help them to face the uncertainty of this historic moment.

The program is not public because of safety reasons. Results will be published in the next two years.

China turning a blind eye to its International Obligations


China has seen an upsurge in religious persecutions against Uyghur Muslims, under the regime of Xi Jinping since he assumed the Presidency in 2013 as he aims in achieving the goal of creating a unified China. However, this goal entails eliminating the minorities. By default, the Uyghur Muslims are officially recognised as being one of the national minorities and are a target due to their practice of Islam which differs from the general population which is the Han Chinese making up 92%. The Uyghur Muslims are notably, from a specific region known as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) whereby they form half of that region’s population which amounts to around twelve million people.

The gravity of the situation lies in the fact that China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and instead of standing as an exemplary Member State in terms of respecting its obligations towards its citizens and the international community as a whole, it has continuously denied the human rights violations and disregards its duty towards the fundamental rights of the Uyghur Muslims.

The rights of the Uyghur Muslims at a Universal Level

Under International Law, there are only a few instruments that afford protection to the Uyghur Muslims. The core UN Treaty concerned is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which China is legally bound by given the fact that the treaty has been ratified. In other words, any violation(s) of the ICERD would amount to a breach of the jus cogens i.e., the peremptory norms which are non-derogable under international law.

Furthermore, other legal instruments that protect those minorities are namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UN Declaration) which even though, are non-binding in nature, still have a high degree of relevance and importance as they form part of the International norms.

The International Treaties

The ICERD notably, legally binds States to comply with the Treaty in the observance of human rights and mentions that there should be no distinction as to religion.

Under Article 1 of the ICERD, the term “racial discrimination” encompasses “ethnic origin” and “descent”. Another mutual characteristic of the Uyghur Muslims, besides religion is that they are of Turkic descent. As such, the Uyghur Muslims, who are also officially recognized by China as an ethnic group, are protected from discrimination on those grounds.

Furthermore, Article 5 of the ICERD conveys a duty on China to not only prohibit racial discrimination but also to eliminate it. A further elaboration of this Article would entail that China should hold the rights of minorities to the same level as those of the Han Chinese i.e., they are viewed as equals. It specifically includes under civil rights, ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ under Article (5)(d)(vii). Therefore, allowing Uyghur Muslims the freedom to exercise Islam without facing any discrimination within the Chinese territory and jurisdiction.

The Norms

Furthermore, even though China has not ratified the ICCPR yet, that does not exempt it from not complying with this key human rights international treaty. By being a signatory, China has a duty to ensure it does not carry out any actions that defy the ICCPR. Therefore, it is responsible for guaranteeing the rights of the Uyghur Muslims under this treaty. As such, the main provision relating to the protection of Uyghur Muslims at a Universal level is found under Article 27 of the ICCPR which states that:

“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Article 27 thus confers an obligation on China to allow Uyghur Muslims to practice Islam. This right is distinguished from the general rights of the Han Chinese population as it is specific to the minority group. Additionally, China’s duty in complying with this article encompasses the protection of the social identity of this religious minority i.e., as religion is often the core guide for the way people behave in a society for instance, their lifestyle and way of being.

 The UN Declaration as a matter of fact was inspired by Article 27 of the ICCPR and it further details out the rights of minorities including the need for States to protect their fundamental human rights (Article 4). Additionally, it creates a framework for Uyghur Muslims to practice Islam without facing discrimination as righteously stated under Article 2. Furthermore, Article 5, demands that National policies and programmes take into consideration the ‘legitimate interests’ of national minorities. Thus, China has a duty to ensure that there are no laws or norms that conflict with the legitimate interests of those minorities.

Hence the Uyghur Muslims have an international framework in terms of protection of their rights at a Universal level that China has a responsibility to the International Community to conform with.

Are the rights of Uyghur Muslims recognised and protected under the Chinese Constitution?

The main concern under the International instruments above in the protection of minorities are the State’s observance of the fundamental human rights. As such, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), is the main Article concerning the freedom to practice religion. It notably allows for religions or beliefs to be practiced without any conditions imposed on communities or individuals.

The Chinese Constitution carries a similar provision, under Article 36 whereby it conveys that religion should not be forced upon any individuals by any entities including the State and that none of its citizens shall be discriminated against. However, Article 36 makes mention of the State only protecting ‘Normal religious activities’ with no supplementary definition of what constitutes ‘normal’. Therefore, the protection of freedom of religion is limited in scope as it is subjective.

Furthermore, the UDHR sets some limitations on the practise of religion under Article 29(2) for the general welfare and so as not to disrupt the public order. Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution reflects this by also including ‘public order’ and other restrictions so as not to interfere with the health or education in China which is rather ambiguous but on the outset is still reflective of the UDHR.

As to the general rights of minorities, Article 4 of the Chinese Constitution states that:

All ethnic groups of the Peoples Republic of China are equal. The state shall protect the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic          minorities and uphold and promote relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony among all ethnic groups. Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited; any act that undermines the unity of ethnic groups or creates divisions among them is prohibited.”

An interpretation of this article would therefore mean that, as they are a recognised ethnic group, the State bears the legal responsibility to protect their rights and offer them the same level of treatment as they would to any other minorities. As such, they are constitutionally a protected group. Additionally, the ‘unity’ of the Uyghur Muslims is notably, Islam. Therefore, Article 4 gives them the right to freely practise Islam without being discriminated and oppressed.

Furthermore, when Article 4 is read in conjunction with Article 36, it is clear that the Chinese Constitution allows religion to be practised by ethnic groups in the entire State, the Uyghur Muslims are not limited to practising Islam within the XUAR.

Rights in the XUAR

In essence, the XUAR, is constitutionally delegated powers under Section 6 of the Constitution: Autonomous Organs of Ethnic Autonomous Areas. In a nutshell, the Autonomous system, allows for a self-government whereby it is given the power to fine-tune central directives, State laws, regulations, and policies to fit its local conditions.

The 1984 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) as a matter of fact, is conferred these powers constitutionally and Article 11 sets out the following in accordance with religious beliefs:

          Autonomous agencies in ethnic autonomous areas guarantee the freedom of religious belief to citizens of the various nationalities. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion, nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs shall not be subject to any foreign domination.”

Article 11’s wording mirrors that of Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution with the only difference being that it concentrates on the freedom of religious beliefs in the autonomous regions.

Therefore, by interpreting Article 11 of the REAL in combination with the self- governing feature of the autonomous region, Uyghur Muslims within the XUAR, are allowed to practice Islam in the realms of their culture, traditions, and Turkic descent without facing discrimination and interference by State or Non-State entities, subject to some reasonable restrictions of ensuring lordre public and the non-interference in China’s health and education.

Hence, the Chinese Constitution recognises and protects the rights of Uyghur Muslims in the practice of Islam and the Autonomous System, further enables not only for their rights to be tailored but also accord them the necessary protection with the incorporation of different nuances as to their ethnic background.

The National Laws that quash the protection of Uyghur Muslims

However, these rights are limited in scope to a theoretical framework and the Uyghur Muslims are faced with multiple local laws, policies and regulations purposefully enacted to deprive them of the freedom to practice Islam.


In 2017, the Regulations on Religious Affairs was enacted following the National Conference on religious work whereby Xi conveyed that the Regulation was created with the intent to ‘Sinicize’ religions. In essence, it is the process of unifying China by forcing minorities to conform with the Han Chinese culture fully, including their religion and customs. Furthermore, in reference to the policy of Sinicization he mentioned ‘providing active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society’.

As such the existing domestic laws should be interpreted from this standpoint. For instance, Article 13 of the Criminal Code, defines a crime as ‘an act that endangers the sovereignty… of the State’, ‘… subverts the State power of the people’s democratic dictatorship’ and one which ‘… overthrows the socialist system’. Therefore, the underlying significance in regard to religion is that Islam is a threat to the National identity of the Atheist and Communist State. It challenges the Central government in maintaining State Sovereignty as Islam is more than just a religion, it is a mean to socially control individuals.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-extremification37 (De- extremification Laws)

Article 13’s interpretation is fully supported by the fact that it is applied in the context of de-extremification which is explicitly aimed at the Uyghur Muslims. Article 4 states that: ‘De-extremification shall persist in the basic directives of the party’s work on religion, persist in an orientation of making religion more Chinese and under law, and actively guide religions to become compatible with socialist society’.

Moreover, with the same intent, the Uyghur Muslims have also been introduced to new norms in the XUAR by the ‘Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism’ which comprises of the Mass Surveillance system and the re-education camps.

In a nutshell, the Mass Surveillance involves a highly advanced technological system monitored by Han Chinese authorities whereby information is illegally gathered and is programmed in such a way that lawful practices are flagged as suspicious or threatening behaviors. The authorities, therefore, have full control over Uyghur Muslims.

Additionally, since 2017, over one million Uyghurs have been sent to the      re-education camps. The purpose behind those camps, is notably, to forcefully convert Uyghur Muslims into Han Chinese by any means necessary including a series of inhumane and torturous acts.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Implementing Measures on the Counter-Terrorism Law (The Measures)

Furthermore, the Measures derive from China’s Counter-Terrorism Law 2015, which in its execution, is justified as a means to restore the public order by eliminating ‘terrorists’ in the XUAR.

Article 5 notably, states that: ‘Efforts to counter terrorism and extremism shall treat both the symptoms and causes and take comprehensive measures, combating in accordance with law and blending leniency and severity, respecting customs and protecting human rights’.

The ‘symptoms’ are detailed under Article 9 in the De-extremification Regulation as mentioned above, whereby Primary expressions of extremification include: covering the face, wearing gowns, and growing ‘irregular beards’. Additionally, generalizing the concept of Halal48 is banned under the same Article. Furthermore, Article 3, refers to ‘distorted religious teachings which is directed at Islamic teachings.

As such these norms are correspondingly, excessively disproportionate, The Regulation notably, draws no distinction between what constitutes terrorist activities and daily acceptable practices. Additionally, Article 5 of the Measures shows a complete disregard in the protection of human rights since the definition of a terrorist and a Muslim is one and the same. Religious persecution is thus justified as a measure taken in ‘anticipating the enemys moveas conveyed under Article 4 of the Measures51.

Therefore, those norms, are in clear violations of the ICERD since they discriminate Uyghur Muslims by stereotyping them as terrorists and criminalizing Islam to its very core whereby a Uyghur Muslim is strictly prohibited from conducting normal Islamic practices.

Furthermore, in conjunction with Article 5 of the UN Declaration mentioned above, these norms evidently overlook the ‘legitimate interests’ of the Uyghur Muslims. Lastly, the whole of Article 27 of the ICCPR in its application is extinguished, as there is a complete erasure of their social identity as practicing Muslims, Furthermore, their civil rights are violated as those civilians, by lawfully practicing their religion and abiding to all the norms of the XUAR are religiously persecuted.


Therefore, even though China’s constitution acknowledges the rights of the Uyghur Muslims and accords them protection both at a National level and in the XUAR, they are but fictitious and exist only in theory. The incessant aim of Xi’s regime in leading the Uyghur Muslims to extinction clearly demonstrates a breach in the rule of law. Since multiple National norms override their freedom to exercise Islam through immoral justifications of ensuring public order. It is thus evident that China shows an utter disregard to both the customary international norms and the ICERD. Thus, the delay in the ratification of the ICCPR is strategically based with the same intent of circumventing its international obligations and allowing Uyghur Muslims to be protected at a Universal level. Hence, the non-conformity, results in leaving Uyghur Muslims vulnerable and unable to practice religion without the fear of persecution.  

Samia Mallam-Hasham, Barrister-At-Law, Human Rights Advocate


El pasado mayo, el Congreso de la República del Perú promulgó el Proyecto de Ley N° 094, el cual condiciona la publicación de materiales educativos al consentimiento de madres y padres de familia. Tal como dice la ley, los padres y madres pueden influir en la elaboración de los materiales que se usarían en las escuelas:

“Los representantes de las APAFA, comités, asociaciones civiles u otras instancias de representación inscritas (…) designarán a los representantes que participarán en el proceso de elaboración del contenido de materiales, textos y recursos educativos conforme al procedimiento que se establezca en el respectivo reglamento.”

Ante eso, la Defensoría del Pueblo manifestó que: “La promulgación de esta ley afectaría el derecho a la educación e implementación de la educación sexual integral (ESI), e impediría al Minedu garantizar su cumplimiento en un contexto recurrente de violencia y embarazos en niñas y adolescentes mujeres”

Asimismo, la entidad comunicó lo siguiente: “Nuestra institución considera que el condicionamiento de la publicación de materiales educativos al consentimiento previo de progenitores, constituiría un peligroso precedente para todas las políticas públicas, pues institucionalizaría -a través de una ley- un derecho a veto por parte de personas con creencias o prejuicios, generando inestabilidad y falta de seguridad jurídica para la protección de los derechos humanos de las personas, y particularmente, de las y los estudiantes”

En la actualidad, el Ministerio de Educación del Perú es la Entidad encargada de elaborar estos materiales educativos. En el año 2016, nació el Movimiento “Con Mis Hijos No te metas”, el cual se opone a la Educación con Enfoque de Género en las Escuelas. En el año 2017, este movimiento se opuso al Currículo Nacional, el cual incluía un temario con enfoque de género, con la finalidad que la educación sea inclusiva y que se pueda prevenir embarazos adolescentes.

Actualmente, este movimiento mantiene su discurso y al aprobar la ley 094 daría libre albedrío a que estos intereses particulares sean parte de la elaboración de materiales educativos. No se puede negar que peligra el derecho de niñas, niños y adolescentes al no recibir una educación sexual integral y libre de discriminación. Con esta norma en vigencia, grupos conservadores pueden aprobar o desaprobar materiales educativos bajo su propia perspectiva, limitando la educación con enfoque de género y retrasando los pocos avances que se han podido dar en el país.

En un país con una alta tasa de violencia hacia la mujer, embarazos adolescentes y prejuicios, sí es necesaria la Educación con Enfoque de Género. Necesitamos que nuestra infancia y nuestra adolescencia tenga una educación de calidad y crecer en un ambiente seguro donde los prejuicios cada día se derriban más. Asimismo, ya existen experiencias en las escuelas donde la Educación Sexual Integral ha logrado disminuir los casos de embarazo adolescente. Urge la intervención del Estado y que día a día los intereses de grupos conservadores tengan menor participación en leyes que afectan a toda una nación. Un país sin machismo ni discriminación, es un país sin violencia.

Ana Claudia Baltazar Diaz

Climate change on the threshold of the 2020s:Consequences and benefits of Covid-19

Between saying and doing lies the sea, in this case an increasingly polluted sea. Forests burn for days, biodiversity is increasingly at risk, in some cities the air is so polluted and almost unbreathable: climate change is a reality now more relevant than ever.

It is not surprising, then, that climate change, environmental degradation and overexploitation of resources are some of the biggest problems facing the international community today of which society at large-especially younger generations-is becoming increasingly aware.

As early as 1997, with the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) laid the groundwork for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Kyoto mechanisms, parties were ranked according to emission levels, with a corresponding responsibility to reduce them by a given amount; thus, richer countries were given greater responsibility for reducing emissions than poorer countries (which is why, for example, the United States did not support the Protocol).

Despite broad support for the Protocol, global emissions over the past 20 years have grown rapidly, and climate change has remained a major international concern.

Average global temperatures have continued to rise, peaking between 2010 and 2019. The parallel increase in greenhouse gas emissions has contributed considerably to global warming, so much so that the European Earth Observation Program – Copernicus – has designated 2020 as the warmest year ever recorded in Europe.

On average, global temperature has increased by 0.94-1.03°C since the late 19th century, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects on the environment and climate. In order to curb this increase, the international community agreed – at COP21 – on the so-called Paris Agreement, whose aim is to keep global warming below 2°C.

Indeed, since the Paris Agreement places equal responsibilities on all parties, not only poorer countries are in a position where they have less room to develop their economies, but the asymmetries present in the distribution of wealth and political power are increasing. Moreover, because the global economic model is built on competition and growth, which are linked and translated into geopolitical power, it is unlikely that any country will adopt measures in the future that disproportionately damage its position on the world stage. However, despite these issues, the European Union has sought, and still seeks, to position itself as an international leader in issues of climate change resilience and sustainability, as well as to promote the importance of joint environmental action on the international stage and among the European population.

Although the official goal of global environmental policy has long been to limit global warming to below 2°C, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of global warming – published in 2018 – indicated that average global temperatures have increased by about 1°C since the pre-industrial era and predicted that average global warming is likely to reach an increase of 1.5°C between 2030 and 2050. The onset of the pandemic crisis in 2020 was certainly a game changer; the temporary slowdown in global greenhouse gas emissions due to significantly reduced economic activity in the first half of the year has, in fact, allowed the Earth to “breathe,” having led to 19 percent reductions in daily emission levels compared to April 2019. This has benefited the reduction of climate change risks, however, it is presumed that this slowdown will be temporary. The environmental benefits of the global economic slowdown due to COVID-19, however, extend far beyond lower greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, there has also been a significant decline in commercial fishing operations as the instability of global supply chains has prompted a renewed focus on strengthening local supply chains to support community fishers and reduce food insecurity risks. This, in turn, has also had indirect impacts on carbon footprints.

A further feature of the global response to the pandemic has been the willingness of most governments to rely on the advice of doctors and experts; a rationale that many commentators have urged to apply to global responses to climate change as well, arguing that the threats of climate change are far more widespread and enduring.

Francesca Teresi

How to prevent the next pandemic (ENG)

After two years of pandemic, Bill Gates delivers a book that in about three hundred pages can serve as both a warning and a handbook for the future. How to prevent the next pandemic, published on 3 May by the Allen Lane publishing house, has been the talk of the town since its release. The Coronavirus pandemic, in fact, has not yet died out and continues to plague governments around the world with its social, political, health and economic implications, but Mr. Gates is already looking to the future, trying to find an answer to the existential question that also gives this book its title ‘How can we prevent the next pandemic?

The Microsoft founder is firmly convinced – and personally, after reading his book, I find myself agreeing with him – that by learning from the current pandemic and implementing a series of strategies for the future, we can avoid the outbreak of a global health crisis like the one caused by Covid-19.

Based on the shared views of the world’s leading experts and his own experience fighting deadly diseases through the Gates Foundation, in How to prevent the next pandemic Bill Gates clearly and convincingly sets out the importance of being better prepared for the spread of new viruses.

The book consists of nine chapters plus an Introduction and an Afterword, the core of which revolves around the idea that while epidemics are inevitable, pandemics are optional. The world, therefore, in Gates’ thinking should not live in fear of the next pandemic, but should make the right investments for the benefit of all, with a view to making Covid-19 the last pandemic ever.

As many will recall, Bill and Melinda Gates have been committed to fighting the virus from the earliest days, collaborating with experts inside and outside the Gates Foundation who have been fighting infectious diseases for decades. This commitment inevitably led Mr. Gates to reflect on many factors in the pandemic response that could have been faster and more efficient.

Starting with the fact that respiratory viruses, including influenza and coronaviruses, are particularly dangerous because they spread very quickly, Bill Gates explains that the likelihood of a pandemic striking the world is steadily increasing; partly because human beings with urbanisation are encroaching on countless natural habitats and, as a result, interacting with animals more often, creating the conditions that allow a disease to pass from animal to human. In addition to this, another key point to consider is the lack of technical preparedness that all countries around the world have generally shown in responding to the virus. Back in 2015, during a speech at the TED conference entitled “The next epidemic? We’re not ready”, Gates had emphasised the importance of planning for all kinds of scenarios – from vaccine research to the training of health workers – to prevent the outbreak of increasingly dangerous viruses. Reflecting this importance, How to Prevent the Next Pandemic sets out how governments, scientists, companies and individuals can build a system capable of containing the inevitable outbreaks so that they do not turn into pandemics. Specifically, each chapter of the book explains a different step to take in order to be ready, and together, all these steps form a plan to eliminate future pandemics and reduce the likelihood that society will have to go through another Covid-19.

The first chapter traces the importance of learning from the pandemic caused by Covid-19. The starting point is swift action. It is no coincidence that many of the countries that experienced low excess mortality – Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, South Korea – at the start of the pandemic quickly tested a large portion of the population, abruptly isolated individuals who tested positive and those who had been exposed to the virus, and put in place a plan to track, monitor, and manage cases that crossed their borders. Of course, Gates explains, just as some countries show us what to do and how to act, others show us the opposite. Not everyone did the right thing. Some people refused to wear a mask or vaccinate. Some politicians have denied the seriousness of the disease and avoided implementing the necessary closures to stop the spread of the virus.

Another fundamental point, repeatedly emphasised by the author, is that investing in innovation today will pay off in the future. In this regard, in the second chapter Gates emphasises the importance of putting in place a global body of experts whose task is to study how to respond to diseases that could kill thousands of people. Simply put, the world has never before invested in the mechanisms needed to prevent future pandemics and now is the time to do so.

Today, there are many organisations working to respond to pandemics, the best known being the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) which does heroic work but does not have the personnel, funds or global mandate to deal with any threat.

What Bill Gates therefore advocates is the creation of a permanent organisation of experts, fully paid and prepared to organise, at any time, a coordinated response to any dangerous outbreak. Mr. Gates proposes to call this group GERM – Global Epidemic Response and Mobilisation – and to fill it with experts from all over the world with a wide range of expertise (epidemiology, genetics, diplomacy, logistics, computer models, communication, etc.) who, when not actively working in the field, are based in the public health agencies of individual countries, in the regional offices of the WHO, and at the headquarters in Geneva.

Several times throughout the book, Gates explains how the most important job of this team would be to help run epidemic response exercises to see if the world is ready for the next big pandemic. However, GERM’s impact would not be limited to stopping pandemics, the group would also improve overall health worldwide, especially in poorer countries.

Another important part of prevention is to study and constantly monitor the spread of different viruses. Indeed, with the right investment and preparation, we will be able to rapidly test large numbers of people during an epidemic in the future. A rapid and efficient response is inevitably linked to the development of digital data collection systems so that public health offices can keep abreast of the situation in their communities, as well as the ability of governments around the world to establish working relationships with infectious disease experts from both the public and private sectors.

In the fourth chapter, the author explores an issue that has plagued countless countries and governments over the past two pandemic years: the need to teach and help people to protect themselves and others. The most useful way we can all do our part is through so-called ‘non-pharmaceutical inventions’ – NPIs – (masks, sanitisers, lockdowns, etc.). The irony of NPIs is that the more useful and effective they are, the easier they are to criticise. However, as our recent past shows, lockdowns – for example – have allowed the world’s economies to recover faster, simply by forcing people to stay indoors and thus saving lives. Of course, not everything that governments have implemented during the current pandemic has been right, nor will it be necessary in the future to repeat every single action taken in the fight against Covid-19. In particular, Gates focuses on the closure of schools, emphasising that schools will not need to be closed for extended periods of time in the future, especially if the world community is able to provide vaccines for everyone within six months.

However, what works for one place or country does not necessarily work for another. Lockdowns are a clear example of this disparity. As explained by the author, social distancing and lockdowns work more for wealthier countries and neighbourhoods; this is because wealthier people tend to work jobs that do not require them to travel and go out to work and because they can afford to stay indoors. Consequently, just as it is important to develop and implement the study of new vaccines, new tests for infectious diseases, and new treatments, it is equally important to work on the inequalities that afflict the global community and that, consequently, slow down the fight against future pandemics. Both locally and globally. A further recurring theme of the book is that the global community does not have to choose between preventing future pandemics or implementing global health: these are in fact mutually reinforcing. The greatest medical breakthrough of this pandemic – and one of the most important in recent decades – was the creation of vaccines against Covid-19. One study found that in the first year they saved more than 1 million lives and prevented 10 million hospitalisations in the US alone. The creation and distribution of the vaccines has been quite rapid, yet there are a number of problems that need to be solved before the next potential pandemic arrives, such as the huge disparity between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not. It is important to remember that the speed with which the vaccines against Covid-19 were implemented depends largely on a matter of ‘luck’. In fact, coronaviruses had already caused two previous outbreaks (SARS and MERS), allowing scientists to learn a great deal about the structure of the virus. In particular, the scientific community – before 2020 – had already identified Covid’s characteristic spike protein – the crown-like spikes of the virus of which countless images have been disseminated – as a potential target for vaccines, so when it came time to create new vaccines, scientists suddenly realised which part of the virus was most vulnerable to attack. In the next outbreak,’ Mr Gates warns us, ‘we might not be so lucky. It could be caused by a virus that scientists have not yet studied.

That is why, according to the author, the global community must adopt a serious plan for the development, production and distribution of new vaccines to prevent another pandemic. However, it is good to keep in mind the difficulty and especially the high costs of such processes. Production alone is a huge challenge: to avoid the inequalities we have seen in Covid-19, the world will have to be able to produce enough vaccines for everyone on the planet within six months of the discovery of a new pathogen (around 8 billion doses for a single-dose vaccine and 16 billion for a two-dose version). To do this, Bill Gates proposes – in chapter six – a four-step plan, starting with accelerating the invention of new vaccines.

All this inevitably requires a lot of practice. ‘Practice, practice, practice’, not surprisingly, is how the author wanted to call the next chapter, in which he advocates a series of simulation plans for the future that will help the global community prevent future pandemics from breaking out. So, just as countless governments spend millions on military exercises, so too should they in the future invest in health exercises that will make us all better prepared should another virus spread. Such exercises will not only be useful in preventing further pandemics, but will also help governments to be prepared in the event of a bioterrorist attack (which is the deliberate use of biological agents – such as viruses, bacteria or toxins – in actions against public safety). The very possibility of a bioterrorism attack is one of the reasons why governments around the world should invest more money in research, study and prevention of diseases that can ‘go global’. Inevitably, investments of public money – as well as the ability to cope with crises – are easier and more possible in richer countries, which greatly contributes to widening inequalities between developed and undeveloped or developing countries. In this regard, Mr. Gates proposes for the immediate future to start decreasing the gaps between rich and poor countries, especially in the area of public health since “where we live and how much money we have determines the chances we have of dying young or becoming wealthy adults”. Narrowing the gaps between wealthier and poorer countries not only helps to eliminate inequities in health and healthcare, but also helps to prevent the spread of new pandemics. Thus, both rich and poor countries benefit.

In conclusion, Bill Gates reminds us that investing public money in planning and preventing new pandemics will make people healthier, save lives and reduce the health gap between rich and poor, even when the world is not actually facing an active epidemic. How to prevent the next pandemic is therefore a handbook, an opportunity not only to prevent things from getting worse, but also to make them better. “We must not give up,” says Mr Gates, “living in perpetual fear of another global catastrophe. But we must be aware of this possibility and be willing to do something about it. I hope the world seizes this moment and invests in the necessary steps to make Covid-19 the last pandemic’.

Personally, I found reading this book extremely interesting, but above all enlightening. Reading How to prevent the next pandemic made me realise how many things are often taken for granted nowadays, especially for people like me who live in developed countries. From the distribution of vaccines to the possibility of finding sanitary devices or swabs, everything is easier if we just leave the house and walk a few metres to find a pharmacy. The Covid-19 pandemic affected every country in the world without distinction, but the ability of governments to respond to it was inevitably related to the type of country (rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped). I believe, therefore, that reading this handbook – as it should be read – can be extremely useful, both for individuals and for governments themselves.

Francesca Teresi