Though the World War II victors promised that the Nuremberg principles would apply not just to the Nazis but to everyone, today’s reality is that international law follows two standards: a lenient one for the West and its friends and a stringent variant for adversaries. This hypocrisy is now being institutionalized, Lawrence Davidson notes.
By Lawrence Davidson
Back in February, I wrote an analysis on the subject of Universal Jurisdiction, which began:
“One of the really progressive acts that followed the end of World War II was the establishment of the principle of universal jurisdiction (UJ). UJ is a legal process that allows states that are signatories to various international treaties and conventions (such as the Geneva conventions) to prosecute alleged violators of these treaties, even when these violations are committed outside the country’s borders.
“This is particularly so if it can be demonstrated that the home government of the accused has no intention of bringing them to trial for the alleged offense. The assumption behind this principle is that the crime committed is so egregious as to be seen as a crime against humanity at large.
“In the wake of the Nazi Holocaust and other such crimes against humanity, UJ was accepted as a necessary and positive legal step by almost all Western nations.”
It has been 66 years since the end of World War II and the memory of the concentration camps has faded (except when invoked as a political tool by Zionists). Nor has the subsequent holocausts such as those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia been sufficient to keep the issue of crimes against humanity front and center in the governmental minds of the great powers.
The historical fact is that such truly horrible crimes committed at the edges of the European world or beyond have never been seen as symbolically important in the same way the Nazi holocaust was. And so we cease to pay attention. That allows for the erosion of the safeguards against these crimes such as UJ.
Now we have proof of this process of erosion. On Sept. 15, Great Britain changed its UJ law to allow the government, in the person of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to veto any arrest warrant referencing universal jurisdiction issued by a British judge.
What that means is that when crimes against humanity are committed by representatives of a power friendly to Britain, the government can negate any risk of arrest for those persons while visiting British soil. This happens to be the British government’s response to warrants issued for the arrest of Israeli personages such as former foreign minister Lzipi Livni in 2009.
The British UJ law exists by virtue of Great Britain being a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention but that does not seem to matter. For the sake of friendly relations with Israel, the British government is willing to render its obligations under international law moot.
Of course, the British government does not explain its actions that way. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke insists that the government is “clear about our international obligations.” This change in the law is simply designed to “ensure … that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to successful prosecution.”
The fact that Israeli crimes against the Palestinians are among the best documented seems not to be part of Clarke’s judicial world. Indeed, according to Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, warrants issued against Israelis for war crimes and crimes against humanity are only “abuses” of Britain’s judicial system carried out “for political reasons.”
In truth, what the British government has done is institutionalize double standards.
Just imagine what would happen if the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassem Brigades (Hamas’s military wing) flew into Heathrow to see some sick friend. The British Zionists would have a judge issue a warrant within the hour and the British government would enforce it without question.
Now imagine that at about the same time Israeli Major General Yoav Galant arrived. Galant was Israel’s Chief of Staff during Operation Cast Lead and publicly stated that the operation turned Gaza into an “ideal training zone” to test new weapons that were often themselves banned under international law.
With this new qualification of the UJ law, nothing at all would happen to Galant. And that double standard is absolutely in place “for political reasons.”
This is a disastrous precedent because other countries will almost certainly follow the British example. However, it is not the only case of erosion of international law.
The international law referencing behavior on the high seas has recently been called into question and guess who forced that issue. Israel again. This is function of the fact that all the major powers, and the UN as well, proved willing to let the Israelis off the hook for attacking an unarmed Turkish vessel in international waters and killing nine passengers.
Only Turkey has taken a stand for international law.
Then there is the U.S. corruption of the International Criminal Court (see my analysis “International Law and the Problem of Enforcement” posted on June 4) and finally the repeated use of a U.S. veto at the Security Council to protect its ally – again Israel – when that country violates international law by moving its own population into occupied territory and commits daily crimes against the Palestinians.
Generally speaking, if it is a great power or allied to one, a state can do just about any horrible thing it wants as long as it does it to its own citizens and within its own borders. Thus, if Hitler, as chancellor of a great power, had just stuck to killing every last German Jew, communist, retarded person, etc. he almost certainly would have gotten away with it.
That is the power of sovereignty.
If Saddam Hussein, as a U.S. ally, had confined himself to killing Iraqi Kurds and Shiites by the tens of thousands, no one would have intervened. But in both of these cases the dictators made the mistake of incurring the wrath of great powers by crossing a border for reasons other than blatant self-defense.
Now the Israelis have shown that this criterion (sticking to your own territory when you do your killing) to be an arbitrary one. They cross borders all the time (as does their great power patron). My guess is that, unlike Iraq, the Israelis could have invaded Kuwait and gotten away with it!
That is because they are more than just protected by the United States. Washington does not control its ally, its ally controls Washington.
Israeli front organizations such as AIPAC control the information flow and dictate relevant Middle East foreign policy to the government of the “greatest power on earth.” That is why joint resolutions, standing ovations for the likes of Netanyahu, and such stupid proclamations as “Israel has the right to annex the West Bank” flow uninterrupted from the halls of Congress.
It is odd. The only thing that stands between all of us and the next holocaust is international law and treaty provisions such as universal jurisdiction.
But who cares? Not the U.S. or British governments and not the Zionists. No. Memory fades and double standards are, after all, a universal human failing.
So it is just a matter of time before it happens all over again. Not in some faraway place like the Balkans or Africa or the Far East, but once more right here in the West. Just as if the primary civilian disaster of World War II never happened.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism