International Peace Day

On the 21st of September…

News media has long been known to be a bit of a balancing act. The media shows us things it knows we want to see. It tailors its content to its market guided by years of finding out from its customers “what interests you?”.  But the media doesn’t just react to its readers, listeners and viewers. It plays a rather more elusive and pervasive role. The media also tells us what it thinks we we ought to know. As well as giving us what we want, it manages our expectations and tells us what we should want to read about, watch on our televisions and hear on our radios.
From looking at the front page of a newspaper we get a heady and hard to distinguish mix of what we want and what we should want.
Today is the International Day of Peace. A global day of celebration of cooperation, nonviolence, justice and equality. This event doesn’t feature on the top stories of news sites or radio shows. It isn’t a national holiday or the subject of much activity like a religious holiday might be. But all is not lost.
From looking at news sites and newspapers the top stories for planet Earth today are very much about peace.
News of the terrorist murder of Afghanistan’s peace envoy features as the top story. News of Mexico’s ongoing drug war, their state of negative peace is discussed. Stories of a typhoon in Japan threatening the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant gives the headlines an environmental edge. Hopeful news of another Gaddafi stronghold falling to the Libyan government and their acceptance at the United Nations as the official representatives of the Libyan people are reported. Finally Obama’s peace mission to the middle east concludes global top stories.
Peace is about terrorism. Peace is about drugs and law and order. Peace is about protecting our environment and sustainability. Peace is about humanitarian intervention and global governance. Peace is about diplomacy and interstate conflict. Although there is no mention of this important date in today’s headlines every story leading the news today is fundamentally about peace. Murdoch doesn’t control the news, we do and today the news was about peace. That means that we the consumers of the news are desperate for news about peace. Not only that but the media executives agree with us. They think that we ought to know about peace.
Although no one has mentioned International Peace Day the outlook isn’t bad. Happy Peace Day, keep up the good work.

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Tentative triumph for international law in Libya

As I wrote in my piece for IJC on ‘the year ahead’ all humanitarian intervention needs is one success.

The International Criminal Court can take credit for giving the international military intervention above and the rebels below a boost in the Libyan conflict. In June when the court issued an arrest warrant for Saif Al-Islam and Gaddafi the going was slow. People were wondering if Gaddafi would ever be leaving and the rebels had lost key towns. The arrest warrant reminded the international community that it wasn’t just a military operation. That, as British Prime Minister David Cameron points out, “you can’t drop democracy from 40000 feet”. It served to remind Gaddafi that he simply couldn’t go on. That the moment fighting was over, if he survived it, he would be expected to appear before the court in the Hague. It also gave the public a fresh perspective on it. People know so little about international law that some were surprised that there was this court in the Netherlands that held war criminals that had the authority and support to simply issue arrest warrants for bad people. So many people being ignorant of that would have simply expected killing Gaddafi as the only option or the best of a bad set of options.

What is needed next? The next stage is the most complicated. It’s keyhole surgery. We must, must get Gaddafi and his son Saif Al-Islam out of Tripoli and into the court. They can’t be allowed to be killed in a fire-fight or disappear into the desert. Of course there is a more complex possibility, there have been rumblings early this morning that South Africa intends to airlift him and others out to the south. They should recall immediately that they signed the Rome Statute of the ICC in 1998. However if this scenario were to happen this could in fact provide an easier mechanism for seeing him and others in the Hague. South Africa has signed agreements to make investigation and extradition to the court easier, Libya isn’t even a state party of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Regardless of this, NATO has a no-fly zone over Libya, NATO jets might shoot his plane down unaware of its inhabitant.

Why is it so important that these arrest warrants come to something and see successful prosecutions? The ICC doesn’t have a long history or a significant backlog of successful indictments. It needs this success so it can say in future “we did this, you need international law, it is part of the formula for peace”. It’s not that isn’t good at what it does it’s that capturing war criminals and getting enough evidence to prosecute them effectively is incredibly difficult. Remember, you’re trying to extricate a person and evidence they will have tried to destroy from a situation where they are in charge of a country or military and don’t want to be arrested.

An ICC arrest warrant should be one of the most fierce-some tools of international law and peace. It should instill fear in the hearts of dictators. It shouldn’t be a wasted piece of paper or something that could be ignored. Whilst we need this success in Libya that can’t be the end of it, we need more successes. I for one believe that prospects are looking up… of course depending on what happens in Libya over the next few days.

What can you do for international law? Just talk about it.

National laws are a tangible expression of the limits of behaviour that society is willing to tolerate. Anything beyond these limits is prohibited, subject to state sanction and ostracism from society. The same applies across borders to the international arena. International law exists to prohibit acts that are so heinous, so offensive to our collective human consciousness that they cannot be tolerated.

International society has demanded after events that have shocked and frightened us that institutions be set up to punish and seek out those who offend us, those who go beyond the limits that human kind has designated. These limits are more relaxed, less clear or strident than those at a national level. International society has a propensity to agree on very little yet when it does, it does so emphatically. We’ve agreed that it is unacceptable to commit genocide, for example.

Ratko Mladic is an international criminal whose crimes define international law. From ethnic cleansing to deportation and persecution he exists as a caricature of all that our international society deems unacceptable. Furthermore, he continues to offend our collective will by flouting the rules and procedures of the institutions we created to defend and enforce international law. Most notably, his refusal to cooperate with the judges in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Under no circumstances must we forget he is there standing trial for crimes against humanity. When he murdered Bosniaks in the 90s it wasn’t just a crime against his victims it was a crime against our collective human consciousness. We can’t forget that it is as a result of our international view that genocide is unacceptable that he is there. We are part of this process. As an international society we can’t allow his disrespect for our collective agreement (considering how little we all agree on, this is even more important) to go unnoticed. If he is simply forgotten then he has won, he’s proved that humanity isn’t so offended by his actions after all. If his crimes are translated into opaque legalese few can understand or his trial bogged down by appeals and lack lustre evidence from governments (I am looking at the Serb government when I say that) then what can we expect from our fragile system?

We have to keep talking about international law. We have to keep writing about human rights and about those who have yet to be brought to justice by our system. Our legislators need to keep asking probing questions of our governments, our judges need to keep laying precedent upon precedent in support of our unified revulsion for crimes against humanity.

Teachers need to talk about it with their pupils. You need to talk about it with your friends and family. Bring it up at your workplace and get a debate started. We can’t let people like Mladic win. We’re all part of this and if it’s allowed to fall out of the public eye or interest then those with the power to do more to catch war criminals and bring them to justice will have no pressure to continue and increase their efforts.

Extradition review – my thoughts on UK arrangements

Here’s my contribution to the Home Secretary’s review of the UK’s extradition treaties. I’m really glad I got the chance to do this, you can too at http://tinyurl.com/32kn34u. Now please remember I am not a legal expert and I have only the most basic understanding of the law. I am however reasonably well versed in International Relations and the like! I do make some subjective judgements about the quality of other countries’ judiciaries and for that I am unapologetic. Justice is universal, it isn’t subject to cultural relativism and I do consider our judicial system to be one of the best in the world – *Glows with patriotic pride*.

So, here we go:

Dear Home Office,

I’m pleased you’ve given members of the public an opportunity to contribute to the debate on extradition. I am a student of Peace Studies and International Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University and I’ve also taken a semester of International Human Rights Law at the University of California Berkeley.

Before I address each point of your list on the website I wanted to lay out my first two initial thoughts on the matter.

1) any agreement should be based on the concept of reciprocity, the UK should not sign any agreement that is unfairly weighted in its favour or to its detriment.

2) that signing agreements with countries whose judicial systems are underdeveloped or based on principles other than freedom and the rule of law has the potential to undermine our system at home. To elaborate on this I do not necessarily think we should cancel agreements with countries whose laws are based on, for example, religion, just that we should consider our system as a more developed example and should make agreements on British judicial development and support with those countries, alongside any extradition agreement.

 

To address each point in turn:

 

– the Home Secretary’s powers to stop extradition

The Home Secretary is a political actor and a representative of the people. She is not a legal professional (it occasionally may occur that the Home Secretary is indeed a legal professional but this cannot be relied upon) and in making decisions on extradition she is not part of the legal framework which constitutes our judicial system. It strikes me as unusual to give a politician such a power in our judicial system and there is potential for the Home Secretary to act in accordance with public demand. This would be extremely ill-advised. The public should not be able to overrule judicial decisions. Our judiciary is here to protect the minority against the majority so it should be the Supreme Court as the only domestic body that can stop an extradition.

 

– the operation of the European Arrest Warrant, which deals with extradition requests between European countries

The concept of reciprocity comes into play. I agree that Britain should cooperate with other European countries in the area of justice and security however when so many other European countries decide not to cooperate with us this becomes tainted. There should be a threshold, a percentage of compliers to any agreement of this sort, before it becomes active. We should also not agree to cooperate with countries who have not enacted and made use of the EAW.

 

– where a crime is mainly committed in the UK, whether the person should be tried here

This would depend on the nature of the crime and the nature of the punishment. We should also not be afraid to deem our methods of justice superior in this case. When a crime committed here is considered minor then we should strive to protect that person against the disproportionate response they might receive in their country of origin. I understand this is already in place in some circumstances, such as where we refuse to extradite in cases of torture or the death penalty. In furtherance of this I believe, to stay true to our ideological stance, we should refuse to extradite to countries that practice these methods at all.

 

– whether the US-UK Extradition Treaty is unbalanced

This is a cause for extreme concern. Although I state previously that the Home Secretary should not interfere in the extradition process this is an example of an extremely one sided treaty with little or no benefit to the UK other than in diplomacy with the US, I would encourage her to review this as a matter of urgency. I can also reliably state that any recalibration of this law to a more balanced version would meet with strong public support. This treaty defeats many of the objects of British justice. It allows for British people to be tried for acts, performed in Britain and legal in Britain, in the United States, effectively granting the US universal criminal jurisdiction over British subjects. This severely undermines the supremacy of the British and European judiciaries which the British people and Government are accountable to.

 

– whether requesting countries should be required to provide sufficient evidence to prove an allegation

Prima facie should remain as the central object around which any extradition case is based. This is partly the problem with the US-UK treaty as it removes this, with no reciprocity. Although in the case of the EAW there is less cause for concern as the highest authorities for all European citizens are the same institutions.

 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute, I would be very interested to see what role these contributions make in the process of debate and at what points they are considered. Any guidance on that would be very much appreciated.

I do hope they get back to me on how the submissions are used, wouldn’t it be cool if Teresa May read it and was like, “Right on Will!”