A ‘crime of aggression’ at the very least
A leading barrister has said the US cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield was unlawful for a number of reasons and the action has degraded international law.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, writing in The Independent, went on to question why the international community was remaining so apparently untroubled by the attack which made a mockery of UN Charter 2(4) that prohibits the use of force against the territory of another member state.
He notes wryly that Vladimir Putin and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were among the few to express concern about the Trump White House’s unlawful act.
The only solid justification for such use of force would be the right of self defence under Article 51 but, says Robertson, “not even the US – which stretched this concept to breaking point to excuse its invasion of Iraq – could claim that Assad’s air force was likely to bomb Manhattan.” Trump apologists, he goes on, claimed instead that the bombing of the Syrian airfield, as a reprisal for the gas attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians a few days earlier, was “unlawful but legitimate”.
It is this oxymoron which causes Robertson greatest concern.
It was the notion of “legitimate lawbreaking” that drove 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham mad. If you broke the law, however good your motives, you had to accept punishment. Declaring an action “illegal but legitimate” clearly plays into the current White House’s dictum of “alternative facts” but the rule of law demanded a straightforward answer.
The problem is that no one is prepared to hold Trump and the US government to account. The attack on the airbase amounted to a war crime as only a military installation was targeted. It also wasn’t a crime against humanity as the action was not “widespread and systematic” under current definitions.
What Trump appears to have committed, argues Robertson, is a crime of aggression, as defined by the International Criminal Court in 2013. This is the bombardment of the territory of another state in manifest violation of the UN Charter.
A further problem is that the crime of aggression has yet to be formally ratified by the UN. Only a handful of states have ratified the concept. This Robertson describes as a dereliction of duty. He goes on: “They should bring the crime of aggression into force as soon as possible, before President Trump commands more of it.”
Meanwhile other White House apologists had advanced other justifications for the cruise missile attack, using the heinous nature of the previous gas attack as grounds for invoking the UN Charter’s right to humanitarian intervention.
The only problem with this, from the White House’s point of view, is that the US has always denied that the right exists under international law!
Another person under no illusion that the US attack on the Syrian airfield was illegal was former CND General Secretary and current president-elect of the Movement for the Abolition of War Bruce Kent who wrote to The Evening Standard to state that:
“Individual states have no legal right whatever to interpret United Nations resolutions and to deduce that they individually are authorised by such resolutions to take military action.
Military action has to be clearly authorised by the Security Council or, in an extreme case like Korea, by the General Assembly.”
The headline ‘World on the brink of Nuclear War’ in a recent edition of the Daily Mirror was certainly the most melodramatic newspaper view of the recent ratcheting up of tensions between the USA and North Korea.
What is undeniable is that two supremely egotistical, arrogant men with bad hair are edging the world towards a nuclear precipice that is, not quite, but could become, as fraught with danger as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
The saving grace for all of us then was that the US president at the time, John F Kennedy, was a very intelligent and shrewd politician surrounded by many equally intelligent and shrewd advisers.
Fast forward to the current incumbent of the Oval Office and his coterie of self-serving sycophants and ask yourself, to quote Clint Eastwood in a different context, “do I feel lucky?”
True, there are theories that Trump attacked a Syrian airfield with cruise missiles and dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan to help improve flagging poll ratings in the US and to try and convince everyone that he was not that close to Russia after all, and that he’ll now turn his attention back to domestic matters. True, the warships he sent steaming towards North Korea were subsequently found to have been steaming in the opposite direction. But given his propensity for self-delusion, no apparent grasp of reality and a total absence of diplomatic nouse I am not exactly re-assured by these conjectures.
Phillip Cooper reviews People Power – Fighting for Peace
Billed as ‘a journey from the First World War to the present day, exploring how peace movements have influenced perceptions of war and conflict’, the latest special exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, is both highly informative and a trip down memory lane for those who have ever campaigned under the CND banner.
Although the institution hosting the exhibition sounds, by its title, to be the antithesis of all that the peace movement stands for, those who have attended its annual Remembrance Day peace lectures and viewed its permanent display on the Holocaust will have come to respect its scholarly and non judgmental approach to all issues surrounding war and conflict.
The new exhibition, People Power: Fighting for Peace, is no exception. Tracing the history of peace campaigning from conscientious objection in the First World War, through the birth of the peace movement in the Cold War, via Greenham Common to the march against Blair and Bush’s Iraq War and beyond it provides a clear and powerful picture of the desire and determination of so many men and women to oppose conflict as the only answer to international tension.
Among the many fascinating objects on display a few that caught the eye included a banner protesting against the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, hand painted by David Hockney’s father; memorabilia from the late Brian Haw’s Parliament Square peace camp; recordings of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ actor Paul Eddington explaining why he was a ‘conchie’ in WW2; and provocative anti-war paintings by such as Paul Nash and CRW Nevinson.
The history of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Quakers’ Friends Ambulance Unit (which began with 43 members in 1914 and ended the war with 1,300 volunteers) are set out in detail.
And, although displayed without comment, the juxtaposition of excerpts from official government information films providing ‘common sense’ advice on how to protect the family from a nuclear explosion with the terrifying reality depicted in The War Game underlined the dishonesty of trying to suggest that nuclear war was survivable.
Two quotes from the displayed material stick out. One, unattributed, says: ‘You might just as well try to dry a floor by throwing water on it as try to end this war by fighting.’ The other, by Noam Chomsky, runs: ‘If you go to one demonstration and then go home; that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.’
People Power: Fighting for Peace continues until 28 August 2017. Admission: £10 adults, £7 concs, £5 for Art Fund members. View the excellent youTube trailer here: https://youtu.be/vo8Z1UaUJRk
Review by Veronika Tudhope of Scottish CND
A new report, Playing With Fire: Nuclear Weapons, Incidents and Accidents in the United Kingdom by Peter Burt for the Nuclear Information Service published February 2017 discusses the accident record of the UK's nuclear weapons programme over its 65-year history. It looks across the full scope of the programme, describing the most significant incidents in detail.
One thing quickly emerges from a reading of this long and detailed report: not only are we paying for the nuclear weapons which most of us do not want, risks are being taken in our name, with our money. As it states, ‘the intention of this report is to press the alarm button’, which it does. The report gives a ghastly list of accidents which makes you feel that the British nuclear bomb has led a charmed life, and that if we have avoided Armageddon by the skin of our teeth it is only by pure luck, over and over again.
Operation Relentless, the programme for keeping a British nuclear submarine at sea at all times could well be called so because it imposes relentless pressures on managers, military commanders, and politicians to maintain operation at all costs as a national imperative. This leads to a disregard for safety which could have it renamed Operation Reckless.
Reading the report three main themes emerge:
This report not only exposes secrets and lies, but also tries to scotch erroneous rumours, for example, no ships carrying nuclear material sank in the Falklands and, as far as we know, nuclear weapons and military nuclear materials have never been lost or stolen in Britain.
The report can be downloaded free of charge from the Nuclear Information Service website: http://www.nuclearinfo.org
Hard copies are available while stocks last. Donations towards print and postage welcome.
Rosemary Addington reports from the Uniting for Peace Conference
This event on March 25th, (ironically three days after the Westminster attack) was jointly sponsored by Peace Jam, an organisation which began in Denver, Colorado in 1996. They provide year-long educational programmes for young people from 5 to 25, working directly with 13 Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills and wisdom they embody. They had just held a Spring Conference in Winchester attended by 250 young people, with Leymah Gbowee. (She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2011 for her work leading a women's peace movement that brought to an end the 2nd Liberian civil war.)
Their UK Director Caroline Millman spoke about their work to help youngsters to spot manipulation of feelings of fear and hatred often running through social media and how to make peace seem as 'cool' as violence. This is especially important for boys, and it is also important to empower girls to be able to stand up to attempts to involve them in bullying or radicalisation. Two enthusiastic young men who were mentors at the conference for younger participants also spoke.
Peace Jam also works with the "One Billion Acts of Peace” Campaign" that describes itself thus: “an international global citizens' movement designed to tackle the most important problems facing our planet. We started with a simple idea…Everyone matters. Everyone can make a difference, and together, we are unstoppable.”
(look at www.billionacts.org and also at at www.peacejam.org.uk).
The next speaker at the Conference was Claus Grube, Danish Ambassador to the UK, and a keen UN supporter. He spoke of the problem of trying to see a pattern in recent atrocities in order to work out how to face up to them. Recent attacks including one in Denmark two years ago seem to be "lone wolf" and it was very difficult to perceive any pattern in these. There are no easy answers to keeping us safe while upholding our own values. Counter-terrorism measures such as fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria cannot provide a long-term solution. It's important to reach out to vulnerable people and the misuse of religion must stop. Civil society must be brought in, and local voices heard. He spoke of the UN Secretary-General's "Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism" which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2016. (You can read about this on the UN website, or just Google the title above.)
Another excellent speaker was Dr. Makram Khoury Machool, who is a Palestinian-born professor at Cambridge University, where he has recently established the "European Centre for the Study of Extremism". He said: “There is a sharp rise in extremist activities worldwide. This can’t be tackled by a security focus, first of all it should be tackled when it’s still early in the minds, before it becomes a behavioural activity. First there is extremism, then radicalisation, finally terrorism. Reactionary responses will not work. Look at www.eurocse.org
Other speakers were Vijay Mehta, whose paper "Responding to Terrorism, - Building a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence" is on the Uniting for Peace website, and Brian Cooper who spoke of faith-based measures to bring people together.
All this was followed by very lively Q&A sessions and discussions over refreshments.
A disturbing report from Gill Hurle
On 29th March I attended a meeting at Kingston University Students Union, organised by the University and College Union (UCU) in collaboration with Egypt Solidarity Initiative, about Giulio Regeni, a post-graduate student at Cambridge University.
Giulio disappeared on 25th January 2016 in Cairo, where he was researching independent trade unions for his PhD. On 3rd February his body was found, bearing signs of severe torture which human rights groups say are the hallmarks of the Egyptian security forces. The Egyptian government denies it had anything to do with his disappearance and murder.
The meeting was in support of a joint national campaign by Amnesty International UK and UCU to demand Truth for Giulio and justice for Egypt’s Disappeared. The speakers were Dr Roberto Roccu of King's College London, Shane Enright, Amnesty UK's trade union organizer, Dr Anne Alexander of Cambridge UCU and Hugh Sandeman, North Africa team Country Co-ordinator of Amnesty UK.
Egyptian police first claimed that Giulio was hit by a car before asserting he was the victim of a robbery gang accidentally killed by the police during their arrest. Even though Egyptian police, Army and intelligence services denied any involvement in Regeni’s death and torture and promised their full cooperation, Italian investigators in Egypt have had to peel away layers of false leads and attempts to cover up what really happened: city surveillance footage was erased, phone records were suddenly constitutionally protected, and witnesses’ interrogations were made only under Egyptian surveillance and supervision.
Research by Amnesty International has exposed how Giulio’s murder is part of a much wider picture of human rights abuses by the Egyptian security forces and judiciary which pose a grave threat to academic freedoms and freedom of expression. Hundreds of other cases of enforced disappearance and torture have been recorded in Egypt in the last year alone.
Dr Roccu became interested in the case because he is also an Italian student, carrying out research at a UK institution. He was extremely alarmed because in spite of the poor record of human rights in Egypt, the authorities are not in the habit of physically attacking foreign academics. Before the revolution of 2011 politicians had no contact with the people, and there is still no improvement in the situation, in spite of the recent release of Hosni Mubarak. Giulio was studying trade unions. He was interested in the working classes, such as the numerous street vendors. Shane Enright told us that in November 2016, the IMF agreed a $12 billion loan with Egypt, in return for certain reforms, which have already resulted in an unprecedented rise in inflation (24.3% in December). The burden of higher living costs falls most heavily on the poor, whose incomes have been halved, so we need to stand in solidarity with the Egyptian people.
Amnesty Italy took up Giulio’s case and their campaign, targeting companies as well as the government, had some success. The Italian ambassador was withdrawn from Egypt and an arms deal with Egypt was suspended. However, in December the Italian government announced that they were going to reinstate an ambassador in Egypt. In response thousands of people attended rallies in 25 town squares across Italy, and an official event was held in Rome. Amnesty Italy broadened the range and scope of the campaign and Giulio’s family were very helpful, allowing his case to be used to draw attention to the human rights violations of many non-Italians in Egypt. 60,000 signatures calling on the Italian government not to restore diplomatic relations were handed in to the Prime Minister’s office on 25th January, the anniversary of Giulio’s disappearance. See Amnesty website:
In amongst all the attendees at the United Nations conference to negotiate a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons held in New York between March 27 and 31, the strong presence of nongovernmental organisations provided extra hope to those wanting such a global pact, reports the Japanese newspaper Mainichi.
Campaigning group International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) - consisting of NGOs from approximately 100 nations - held a general meeting discussing issues that included the abolition of nuclear weapons. Speakers included Helena Nolan, director of the Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Unit of the Republic of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs. With Nolan representing a country that supports the formation of a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, she was full of praise for the work of ICAN.
Among all the developments during the five-day conference, notable was the extremely large NGO presence with more than 220 organisations including anti-nuclear groups and labour unions present, offering a series of positive suggestions. In addition, documents summarising the key points by each organisation were compiled, and were handled as United Nations documents. One particular ICAN member worth mentioning is the Dutch peace organisation PAX, which has been actively demanding a treaty banning nuclear weapons for several years. In fact, PAX managed to persuade the Dutch Government to take part in the UN conference, after initially it had been reluctant so to do.
The UK, naturally enough, along with the other nuclear armed powers, boycotted the conference, a stance that is completely incompatible with the British Government’s stated intention of working towards nuclear disarmament globally. Many Canadians were also surprised that Canada, under its recently elected ‘progressive’ prime minister Justin Trudeau, also decided not to take part. Commentators accused Trudeau of being afraid to annoy Donald Trump.
If plans go to schedule, a UN treaty banning nuclear weapons should be adopted by July of this year.
Noel Hamel looks back at the record of Keir Hardie
Look at World War 1 and you find Keir Hardie, great socialist and orator, founder of the Labour movement and strong opponent of war. He denounced the Boer War, a Machiavellian plan to seize diamond and gold fields for the British Empire and the already wealthy. He condemned war favoured by the ruling classes so the ruled could risk their lives and health at taxpayer’s expense to the benefit of aristocrats and arms manufacturers. One hundred and two years after his death some think little has changed.
During the centenary of WW1 Keir Hardie’s legendary opposition to the conflict stands out. As as a socialist and internationalist, he roundly condemned German working men killing English working men over a quarrel, nothing to do with them, between the ‘Crowned Heads of Europe’ about colonies and imperial prestige. He was unshakeably certain he could stimulate international, unstoppable grass-roots rebellion against the war to deprive the warmongers of ‘foot-soldiers’ to fight with. It proved an unpopular cause which failed, perhaps because of the popular press and jingoism, perhaps because support for King and Country was inbred. Colleagues in the recently created Labour movement deserted him. His extensive international connections, the result of travels and talks, also failed to seize on the idea. He was right of course but few saw it at the time.
Keir was an MP and lifelong campaigner for pensions, support for the sick and widowed, a basic minimum wage, an eight hour day, safe work environments, decent housing and sanitation, children’s green play space, education, and universal suffrage – not so very radical. He was vilified by fellow MPs, the aristocracy and wealthy industrialists. They retorted that pensions for destitute widows would kill thrift and self-sufficiency.
I wondered why there isn’t a statue of Keir in Parliament Square. George Canning, a Georgian politician who ably negotiated the career ‘greasy pole’ is there; Lord Derby, establishment aristocrat, the longest serving Conservative leader; Sir Robert Peel, Viscount Palmerston and Disraeli, former Prime Ministers, with no ground-breaking historic distinction; Field Marshall Jan Smuts, the notorious racist and imperialist eagerly sent South African coloureds to the trenches but denied them any official recognition ‘lest they get ideas above their station’; Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi who did serve the causes of mankind with varying degrees of distinction. It seems obvious Keir Hardie who worked unstintingly, incorruptibly and selflessly for causes like justice and fairness, and remains a beacon of inspiration for future generations should be there.
Conflict is integral to movements for political change. Within progressive and socialist circles there were cross currents. There were clashes with vested interests and reactionaries. In Parliament, packed with the well-heeled living off inherited wealth (there were no Parliamentary salaries), he cut a lonely and largely despised figure but he was resolute and undeterred by establishment mockery.
When speaking he could sometimes range widely across issues and, possibly, even some sympathizers were offended. He wasn’t known for discretion and consensus so as to win support. What made him really unpopular was opposition to WW1 at a time when everyone, working class included, was caught up in a whirlwind of jingoism and euphoria. He knew Britain was not threatened but the ‘ruling classes’ thought the Empire could be, their aristocratic lifestyles and financial advantage from imperial exploitation at risk, and Britain’s prestigious imperial image sullied.
It is said Hardie was heartbroken by the war and he aged visibly. It is said he later succumbed to helping recruit some constituents to support the struggling comrades – compassionate pragmatism perhaps? Whatever the truth, he died after a stroke in 1915 and overwhelmingly Parliamentarians boycotted his funeral. A sad and dismal reward for a principled hard worker who felt others’ pain and dedicated his life to doing something about it.
Would it be a good time to campaign for a Keir Hardie statue in Parliament Square?
Tory Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC has sought permission from the courts to oppose on behalf of the Government a private prosecution being brought by a former senior Iraqi army officer who wants to see Tony Blair, former Home Secretary Jack Straw and former attorney general Lord Goldsmith face charges for the crime of ‘aggression’. Last November a court ruled that the prosecution could not proceed but, since then, lawyers for the plaintiff, General Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat, former Iraqi Army chief of staff, have claimed that the judge was wrong and that a hearing should take place. Mr Wright has now asked to be allowed to take part in any future hearing, saying the crime of ‘aggression’ is not recognised in English law.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND