Considering the recently heard-of luxury trips to the moon by business tycoons, and with the earth looking forward to send manned missions to Mars by 2030, I wondered whether readers have ever thought of laws they would be subject to, in the outer space. In space, you would probably have to think twice before unleashing the beast within you, since believe it or not, regulations exist up there as well– as many as five international treaties and several General Assembly resolutions of the United Nations (UN) make up the International Space Law.
The underlying principle of two most significant space treaties, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1984 is that, any gain derived from the outer space should be of advantage to everyone country and people of the earth. In fact, all the treaties highly emphasise on international cooperation. The activities of the nations involved in the exploration and use of the outer space are governed by the international law, which includes the UN Charter.
Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' on the moon's surface has throughout the years, given the idea of making the space, the territory of all mankind. Hence, issues relating to arms control, the extent of liberty in exploring the space, the non-appropriation of space by a certain nation, the protection and rescue of astronauts and spaceships, along with matters of dispute settlements between nations present at the outer space have been covered in the treaties.
In the interest of upholding international peace, international space law prohibits states from placing weapons of mass destructions, specifically mentioning nuclear weapons, into the orbit. The establishments of weapons testing, military exercises or bases on any celestial body in the solar system, including the moon have been barred according to the treaties. In fact, terrorising the earth by using facilities on the moon has also been mentioned as unlawful. This certainly portrays the farsightedness of those to have drafted the treaties.
It might be of surprise to be informed of the fact that the UN actually has an Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), for the purpose of administering the aforementioned duties. UNOOSA also supports the growth of science and technology for economic and social development in the exploration of space and the Solar System.
International law aside, what about the human rights of the people in space– the astronauts? Member States of the UN must recognise astronauts as “envoys of mankind in outer space” and must be accommodating in every possible manner during times of accidents, distress or emergency landings. The International Space Law mentions that in the event of unplanned landing by an astronaut in a nation, he shall be treated as a guest, not an unlawful immigrant, and all necessary arrangements must be made to return him to the state where his spacecraft has originally been registered.
Although it is fascinating that people who are millions of kilometers away from our globe are subject to laws and entitled to rights, Bangladesh has not been a signatory, and hence not ratified any of the five treaties of international space law. It has, however, as late as 1986, become a party to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 through accession. Though the treaty can be said to be the guardian of international space laws, it is of importance that we gradually look into the subsequent treaties and consider becoming a part of those. Given that my alma mater BRAC University in the recent past had launched a nano-satellite into space and the government's project of Bangabandhu Satellite is on-going, it is perhaps only a matter of time when we will have our first rocket launched, with astronauts to place the red and green flag of Bangladesh on the moon or any other celestial body in the solar system.
THE WRITER IS A LECTURER IN LAW, NORTH SOUTH UNIVERSITY.