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International justice, whether in the Hague or in Strasbourg, has done nothing either to deter genocide or defend human rights

The existence of the International Criminal Court has probably led to tens of thousands of deaths. As for human rights…

By on Monday, 27 August 2012

Lawyers await a judgment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague (Photo: PA)

Lawyers await a judgment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague (Photo: PA)

The unintended consequences of utopian schemes for the universal imposition of fairness and justice were highlighted, in very different circumstances, by two articles which appeared over the weekend. The first was a very interesting thinkpiece in the Spectator, by Douglas Murray.

Its contention is summarised by the article’s title: “What has this era of ‘international justice’ done to deter genocide?” Murray’s case, which is one that has occurred to me repeatedly over the last year or so, is that the existence of the International Criminal Court, which was supposed when it was established 10 years ago to make the world a safer place, has in fact had the opposite effect: “As Syria now demonstrates,” argues Murray, “far from deterring brutal dictators, the prospect of ending up like Slobodan Milosevic or Charles Taylor has persuaded some of the worst dictators that they only have one choice: to fight it out to the end. The Assads are only the latest family to prove this point. Before them it was the Gaddafis. As the Libyan regime began to crumble, there were numerous attempts to get members of the family out. Yet even neighbouring Algeria was unwilling to give Gaddafi himself exile, and in the days and weeks before his fall, planes with family members on board were turned away from several countries. We will never know how many people needlessly died in those weeks as the Gaddafis looked for exits from the burning building. It was certainly a building which they had set alight, but it was the international community who had locked the doors (my italics).”

Exactly so. Murray points to the example of Tunisia, whose dictator saw the writing on the wall in good time and fled to Saudi Arabia, which sensibly gave him asylum. Libya was a much worse tyranny than Tunisia — whose two dictators (I worked there in the days of Habib Bourguiba) were by the standards of monsters like Gaddafi and Idi Amin (who also took refuge in Saudi Arabia) fairly mild — though Syria is now about as bad as it gets. And as far as Syria is concerned, the fact is that because the international community has made it clear that for Bashar al-Assad there is to be no refuge, the killing will go on. Everyone is now saying, hopefully, that the Assad regime is in its final days. I strongly suspect that it is not, and that Assad will now dig himself in for the duration, and that we will have the worst of all possible outcomes: a bloody civil war which will go on for many years, with Assad or without him. The idea that there might be a “diplomatic solution”, brokered by the saintly Kofi Annan, was always a nonsense; by the time it was proposed, it occurred to me that, as in the case of Macbeth, there could be no compromise, no way back, because already too much blood had been shed; I even went to my Shakespeare and found the quotation; interestingly, Douglas Murray quotes the same passage in his convincing piece, which I recommend in its entirety:

Last week the United Nations — which has proved so incapable of stopping the bloodshed in Syria — released a report concluding that the regime of Bashar al-Assad had committed war crimes. What does the UN expect to be the result of such a conclusion? That Bashar al-Assad will realise he has been bad, and cease and desist? Or will it only serve to enforce his realisation that, like Macbeth, he is “in blood/ Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

What incentive does official condemnation give for Assad to go? Assuming he would at least want to try to save his wife and family, this is exactly the moment at which the UN could do something practical. Not by grand-standing, but by persuading Assad’s remaining wretched allies finally to do their bit, and spirit him away. And why shouldn’t Russia — which has done so much to help Assad prolong the killing in Syria — now be encouraged to take him? Why shouldn’t the UN seek to persuade Iran — which has run Syria as a protectorate over recent years — to give the Assads a villa in downtown Tehran? It may not be the Assads’ preferred permanent bolthole. The fragrant and bloody Asma, wife of Bashar, may resent waving goodbye to the shopping arcades of Paris and London. She may even find herself pining for the fields of Acton. But even a bungalow outside Vladivostok looks appealing if the alternative is swinging from a Damascene lamppost. That is their concern. The concern of this country and the international community should be simply to minimise the loss of life.

The other example this weekend of what I have called the unintended consequences of utopian schemes for the universal imposition of fairness and justice — also involving the dubious consequences of the judicial imposition of international law — was a much less bloody one (though not without the potential for violence and the slaughter of innocent people): it was given in the Sunday Telegraph’s front-page splash, which appeared under the headline “Al-Qaeda terrorists launch human rights bid”.

“Two Al-Qaeda terrorists, one of whom plotted to kill thousands of people in a bomb attack on a British shopping centre, have launched an attempt to have their convictions quashed on human rights grounds,” wrote David Barrett, the paper’s home affairs correspondent. “The pair have applied to the European Court of Human Rights after claiming MI5 was complicit in their torture by Pakistani security services, a claim that has already been rejected by British courts… The new development raises further questions about the influence of Strasbourg over British sovereignty… European judges will… decide on a point of fact… rather than on a point of procedure, which is what the Strasbourg court has been concerned with until now.”

I will not give my views on the Strasbourg “court” here, having already sounded off on the subject of this pestilential institution. But one very obvious thing needs to be said, and will already have occurred to most of you: the Strasbourg court is, it seems, concerned about the rights of these almost certainly rightly convicted terrorists. What about their proposed victims? One of the terrorists, for example, Salahuddin Amin, was jailed for life in 2007 for his role in a terrorist cell that conspired to detonate a massive fertiliser-based bomb at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent or at London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. If he had been successful, hundreds would have died. What about their rights? It cannot have been the actual intention of the starry-eyed idealists who set up the Strasbourg court (and staffed it with “justices”, many from countries with no tradition of human rights, many with no previous judicial or even legal experience) actually to trample on the rights of the victims of terrorism in such a way as to make future terrorist outrages more and not less likely. But that has been the effect, in this and in other comparable cases.

Nowhere, I suggest, do we see the potentially appalling effect of the principle of unintended consequences more vividly illustrated than in the field of “international law”, a heavily utopian, ideologically driven project, wholly undemocratic in its origins and functioning, whose influence has been growing rapidly in recent years, and which should now, in my opinion, be confronted and radically cut back.

  • Thanks

    Jacques Maritain, Catholic expert on St. Thomas Aquinas; philosopher of the natural moral law, and prominent member of the committee which-in 1948- drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,would disagree with you about the necessity and efficacy of international law.

    (Unintended consequences were accounted for in UN Article 30, UDHR)

    Regarding the ICC ( International Criminal Court in the Hague ) its purpose,as you know, is to bring to justice suspected perpetrators who-unfortunately- cannot, currently be brought to book in their own countries.

  • Charles

    The human race is not ready for one world governance of any kind; such governance always results in totalitarian application of Marxist principles that are deadly to individual liberty. Any international secular authority should be abolished in favor of national sovereignty for all nations.

  • JabbaPapa

    Actually, political utopianism has an extremely variegated origin — the one thing that all utopianism has in common, of course, is the deliberate diminishing of the individual in favour of the collective.

    This is not *always* even a negative — see monastic utopianism for example — but in the arena of conflicting (or even just differing) legal, political, cultural, social, and societal values, the crushing of the individual is directly harmful to all other individuals.

    I’m not sure how relevant my point is to the contents of the article, but I’m really just saying that not every evil in modern utopianism has been caused by the Soviet Union — although many have been.

  • JabbaPapa

    The need for an International Law is not identical to a need for an International Criminal Law.

    The first is quite nev=cessary, and has been for centuries, to govern relations and cooperation between Countries and Nations.

    The International Criminal Court in the Hague has OTOH demonstrated itelf, on multiple occasions, to be a white elephant.

    There is no need for it, it has no real purpose, and the ad hoc nature of international relations would be better served by the ad hoc system that existed previously, including with all of its flaws.

  • theroadmaster

    The ICC is only as effective as the major global powers want it to be.  The US will not countenance it’s remit extending to American soldiers in cases where war crimes are suspected and Russia will not support direct intervention to topple Assad in Syria or any initiatives which seeks to seriously penalize his regime.  The Idealism of the jurors who comprise this court while well-meaning in a utopian sort of way, cannot in a practical sense prevent suspected war criminals from defying international arrest warrants and orders to detain them.  We see this clearly in the example of Al-Bashir, the despotic president of Sudan, who continues to snub his nose at the ICC, by freely moving without hindrance into neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The only way that the ICC will reach it’s full potential, is when the leading powers like the US, Russia and China agree to let it operate free of political interference in it’s mission to pursue genocidal murderers and war-criminals without fear or favour.

  • Parasum

    “Actually, political utopianism has an extremely variegated origin — the
    one thing that all utopianism has in common, of course, is the
    deliberate diminishing of the individual in favour of the collective.”

    ## This is totally applicable to the CC. If people suffer, tough – it is
    far better that a few(?) thousand suffer, than that the institution be
    embarrassed. As Caiaphas said, pretty much:

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11%3A50&version=NIV

    The Church can afford to treat people like so many cattle, because there will always be more to fill the empty ranks. The individual members are nothing – the organisation as a whole is everything. This is in effect post-natal abortion. Does the age & location of the person dispensed with matter that much ? If so, then the Church authorities’ opposition to abortion is a superstition – not entirely, since better things are also present in the opposition; but in large part.

    What no one is asking, is whether the concept of “human rights” is even compatible with Christianity. I believe it is not – & that it is a foreign body, derived from a way of thinking that is anti-Christian. A Church does not need such nonsense: its whole life is based on grace & love, not on twaddle such as talk of rights, which is based on justice, not grace. Love anticipates need, because everyone is a member of Christ & of everyone else – so people’s needs are met without asking. To have a doctrine of rights in the Church is to prop up the Gospel & its values with the piffle of philosophers who could not even agree among themselves. What did Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, Plato & the rest know of the Gospel of God’s grace ? They were not even Jews, so they did not think Biblically or in Biblical categories. They have less to say about the Gospel & Christ than a two-year old has to say about particle physics. It is the Spirit that conforms us to Christ – not Aristotle’s “Ethics”,or Cicero or Plato. They may be fine for non-Christians, but we have Christ to show us how to live. That stuff in these pagans takes one not to the Cross, but to Peter’s attempt to persuade Christ to avoid it.  It is not faith-full, but reason-full.

    So Christians need no rights.  Permission to preach the Gospel & live by it is quite enough. If the state objects to giving this, or refuses to give it, Christians can function perfectly well by living with the law and not breaking it. There is no reason why we cannot go back to having houses as churches. At least that has the advantage that we will be living as Christians, instead of contaminating the Gospel by bending it to ambitions for earthly influence. If we contaminate the Gospel, the Church loses its purpose. It should not meddle in politics, but allow the fragrance of the Gospel to transform how men think & and act. The way we do things at present has done a huge amount of damage – that saying about insanity seems very appropriate to the behaviour of the Churches: “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  • theroadmaster

    I mean’t the “idealism of the judges” and not “idealism of the jurors” in my previous comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1341610986 Steven Hepburn

    Evidence obtained as a result of torture should under all circumstances be inadmissible since torture is under all circumstances inadmissible. The fact that one part of the British State has affirmed that another part of the British State is not complicit in the practice does not constitute incontrovertible evidence. Similar affirmations were made after all about the mistreatment of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguires. All of which turned out to be false. Similarly the Lord Chief Justice issued a report after Bloody Sunday which exonerated the Crown Forces from wrongdoing. Several decades later an extensive public inquiry proved what many had known all along that one arm of the State engaged in egregious wrongdoing and another in subsequently covering it up.

    The experience of Irish Catholics at the hands of the British State should give us pause to consider that miscarriages of justice are far from rare in these islands particularly where ethnic and religious minorities can be collectively fingered for political terrorism committed by a portion of their members. The ECHR in Strasbourg represents, perhaps, a way to short cut the long and difficult campaigns waged to eventually bring about some sort of justice for the Irish victims of State wrongdoing.

    In this context the attitude of the State was, perhaps, summarised by the late Lord Denning sometime Master of the Rolls-

    “We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.”

  • JabbaPapa

    A thought-provoking contribution, but one that I would have to disagree with almost entirely.

    Caiaphas is just stating the revenge-based origin of the Old Law, untempered by Christ’s New Law of love.

    The US legal system, that the Court at the Hagueis attempting to parrot, is revenge-based in a very similar manner, though historically it is founded in Norse Wergeld laws, not the Biblical ones.

    And THIS : The Church can afford to treat people like so many cattle, because there will always be more to fill the empty ranks. The individual members are nothing – the organisation as a whole is everything.

    is just a ghastly and slanderous caricature.

    The individual is instead at the very HEART of Catholic Christianity, and each individual’s personal relationship with God.

    There is *some* truth in the suggestion that “human rights” are partly incompatible with Christianity ; but here we are talking about human rights as defined by Americanism, rather than human rights as defined by a different foundation in Catholic Humanism, which requires a more balanced understanding of the interrelationship between individual rights and duties ; and collective rights and duties.

    Human rights as defined in Americanism seeks to completely obliterate all notion of collective rights and duties, so redefining the individual as being cast out of the catholic definition of what an individual actually is in the first place in God’s design.

    If we contaminate the Gospel

    Your Protestantism has already done that..

  • Daclamat

    Check on Amnesty. As the one who uncovered Amin’s torture set up in  April 1979 at the risk of lofe and limb I find armchair human rights activists nauseating.

  • Wrpruitt80

    I’m sorry, but your solution is to let people like Assad go free from punishment because it is too difficult to obtain such criminal sanction?  That is horrid.  The goal of the ICC is to help countries who cannot enforce their own criminal sanctions due to lack of resources or security.  If Assad were overthrown tomorrow he could be tried in Syria for his crimes.  The ICC need only step in if needed.  To act like the ICC is some universal overlord misses the true goal.  And to support asylum for dictators and mass murderers is pitiful.