Socialist Worker

Can a world court bring us justice?

by Theresa Bennett
Issue No. 1770

THE movement to stop the war against Afghanistan is growing. People are united in opposition to war. But within the movement for peace a whole series of debates about the alternatives to war have sprung up. People opposed to the war are quite rightly advocating a political and not a military solution.

They want to see values of justice and fairness replace the current way that international relations are conducted. Some advocate the need for an international court of justice. They argue that Osama Bin Laden should be tried in an international court of law rather than bombed.

But it is the world's greatest superpower, the United States, that has opposed the establishment of an international criminal court. The leaders of the US are not prepared to see their own foreign policy subjected to the rigours of international law. They are not prepared to see their own politicians, like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, tried.

Nothing is said about Kissinger's role in bringing down the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973. Instead of being treated as a war criminal, Kissinger is feted as an international statesman. He is allowed to escape justice for his role in war crimes and mass murder in Vietnam and Cambodia.

It is not surprising that people want to have a body that doles out equal justice. They want to see war criminals like Israel's leader Ariel Sharon put on trial for his role in allowing the Phalangist militia to slaughter over 1,800 Palestinians in the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut in Lebanon.

They want to see Russian leader Putin put on trial for ordering the destruction of the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, and the slaughter of thousands of civilians. They want to see an international tribunal which is free from the interests of the great powers. But the problem is that such an international court of justice would not be able to stand above the power and dominance of the US and the other powers.

Just as US rulers have used their dominance to stop an international criminal court being established, they have the power and influence to control any international body. We only have to look at global institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, all of which are dominated by the US and the powerful G7 countries.

The IMF is set up on a shareholder basis. The largest shareholder is the US, which has 17 percent of the vote but only 5 percent of the world's population. The US is easily able to dominate and influence the less affluent nations. The US would share its dominance of any global court with other powers-such as Russia, China, Britain and Italy-which are also guilty of crimes against humanity.

It is these powers which in any international court would decide if the law had been broken, which would stand in judgement, and which would enforce the law and carry out arrests. The US and its allies, just as they try to do today, would use any such body to legitimise their policies. Many in the anti-war movement also look to the original ideals behind the setting up of the United Nations after the Second World War for a solution. But the UN has also been used by the US and the other powers to impose its interests and to legitimise military action.

Even as early as 1947 US rulers were able to get their way in the UN. This was at a time when the decisions were taken by the UN's General Assembly rather than the five Security Council members. The US secured the creation of the state of Israel, which meant the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, even though this was opposed by many of the countries represented in the UN. As Perry Anderson explains in New Left Review, 'Resistance to the plan, widespread amongst smaller nations in the UN, was overpowered by American bribes and blackmail.

'Liberia was told it would be brought to its knees by a rubber embargo if it dared to vote against the UN plan. The Philippines were brought to heel. France was threatened with all American aid being cut off.'

It was under the cover of the UN that the US led the 1991 Gulf War in which over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and army conscripts were slaughtered. And it is the UN which enforces the sanctions on Iraq which kill 7,000 children every single month.

And because Israel is a key ally of the US in the Middle East, despite many UN resolutions no court is allowed to challenge the existence of the state of Israel. Until the stranglehold of the great powers is broken, those who will sit in judgement over any international court will be the same people who are themselves responsible for some of the greatest crimes against humanity.

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What Socialists Say
Sat 13 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1770
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