We in the Arab world are accused of violence on one hand and a lack of preparedness for democracy on the other, or both at the same time. Those who make these claims — politicians and intellectuals — usually call on the West to teach us and rid us of our violent genes, to the extent that they are willing to use the bulk of our countries’ natural resources and budgets to buy weapons and organise air strikes to bomb us and turn our cities into ruins that are not suitable for human living. Despite all of this, nowadays we are witnessing those who persevere, those who are still capable of bearing the consequences of the killing machines and the tyranny of the Arab governments, and those who are able to survive and remain alive while refuting these accusations and proving their complete opposite. Those following the news of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians, for example, who are defending their rights unto death while still having the most love for life, will know what I mean.
In Iraq’s case, the possible prosecution of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an example comparable to what the Palestinians are doing in the search for justice by various means, cooperating with international activists who do not believe that we are the cause of all violence in the world.
The reason I mention this case is because there is a new social media poll and petition, originating in Scotland, which asks whether Tony Blair should be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes regarding Britain’s role in the war on Iraq, which has at least a million victims. It also caused the displacement of nearly four million people, most of them civilians, and destroyed their homes. However, Blair claims that the heinous acts committed during the war against Iraqis, mostly women and children, were “side effects”, so-called “collateral damage”, a term also used by his successor David Cameron to describe the war crimes in Libya. The Chilcot Inquiry, formed to investigate Britain’s role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, has stalled over announcing its findings in the hope that time will calm the anger of the people and they will forget the crimes. The question of prosecuting Blair as a war criminal remains alive in the minds and conscience of those who were against the Iraq war and whose fears about it having catastrophic results have been confirmed. The World Tribunal on Iraq, consisting of Iraqi and international senior scientists, academics and literati, held about 12 meetings around the world between 2004 and 2006 looking at the crime of invading and occupying Iraq, and it is still continuing its work. It has impressive determination to raise awareness of the magnitude of the tragedy, as well as expose the human rights violations and document the daily destruction occurring in light of the occupation and its successive governments. Its activists also participate in seminars and debates about mankind’s restoration of the rule of law and justice.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, a non-governmental organisation founded in 2007, had an initiative, proposed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which focused on dealing with the effects of wars and victim rehabilitation, and it has played a role in following up on the issue of the war on Iraq since 2009. The commission convened in November 2011 in the presence of Iraqi witnesses, lawyers and activists, as well as renowned judges and lawyers on a local and international level. It issued a ruling which found former US President George W Bush and Tony Blair guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ruling was clear: “The Accused persons had committed the Crime of Torture and War Crimes, in that the Accused persons had wilfully participated in the formulation of executive orders and directives to exclude the applicability of all international conventions and laws, namely the Convention against Torture 1984, Geneva Convention III 1949, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu did not disappoint the Iraqis; he stood by humankind, their rights and their dignity, as he did in his own country during and after the apartheid era. He criticised loudly and clearly (see the Guardian, September 2012, for example) the physical and human losses resulting from the war on Iraq and he called for Tony Blair and George Bush to face trial at the ICC, accusing them of lying about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and stating that the invasion of Iraq “has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history”. It also created conditions suitable for wider civil and regional disputes in the region.
The doubts regarding the ICC’s independence and the question of whether it is actually a tool of Western imperialism (as its work is usually limited to punishing leaders of small countries while ignoring the crimes committed by leaders of more powerful and richer countries) has not hindered the efforts to take advantage of any chance to achieve justice. The activists and lawyers have worked with international figures who have stood by the Iraqi people through the decades, dating back to the unjust blockade. This reminds us of the weakness of the UN’s role and the domination of the global superpowers over the international body to apply the concepts of justice that are in line with the power of each state. Denis Halliday, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, was open regarding the organisation’s stance on the declaration of war on Iraq; he said that the countries of the world must express clearly their rejection of the war, as well as demand the application of international law in all countries of the world. Within the UN, there is no superpower or small power; all countries are equal before international law.
The election of Jeremy Corbin as leader of Britain’s Labour Party has opened a small window of hope for the possibility of accountability, especially since he stresses in his statements that he believes that Blair waged an illegal war in Iraq, thus committing a war crime.
Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, confirms Corbyn’s statements, saying: “Iraq has become a failing state vying with other disadvantaged countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and, of course, the State of Palestine, for the crown of misery. The overall impact of these elements on life in Iraq constitute an indescribable human drama.” He added, “Due process must be for everyone, Iraqi and non-Iraqi; facing justice, however, is not just for those who lost.”
The process of holding accountable the criminals who caused the destruction of an entire country and turned it into a perpetual battlefield is needed and is complementary to other the forms of struggle against occupation, and must be sought in cooperation with the peace-loving people of the world. This was stressed by von Sponeck in a message regarding the poll/petition about Blair’s prosecution. He said that the question is no longer whether or not Blair will go on trial, but when. “We are working hard to set a date for his trial… in order to reassure the Iraqi people that they are not alone in their search of justice.”
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 12 October, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.