Unless international law is to become meaningless, the time has come for political leaders around the world to step up and defend with some vigour and sincerity the principles that were laid down at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946. Such principles did, after all, deliver justice for millions of victims and survivors of the major war criminals post-Second World War.
Justice should be delivered without fear or favour, but it seems that some of the figures of influence in the International Criminal Court (ICC) bend more to power and might rather than to what is right or wrong in the world today. These lily-livered defenders of justice have allowed the ICC to become more or less a lame duck.
As a result of their feeble stance, the 2017 genocide that the world witnessed unfold against the Rohingya people in Myanmar has so far gone unpunished. There is not one person facing charges for the industrial-scale murder, rape and looting carried out by the military in the former Burma.
Human rights abuses against the Palestinian people happen on an almost daily basis, and have done routinely since they were driven from their homeland by Zionist terror gangs and nascent Israel Defence Forces (IDF) from 1948 onwards, yet such abuses go unchecked by the international community. This all flies in the face of the UN which was formed to help protect the weak and the vulnerable in our world. However, since those heady post-war days, the UN now appears to protect only powerful bullies and their allies.
The US is one of the 193 signatories to the UN Charter but, under President Donald Trump, national security adviser John Bolton and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced recently that the ICC is “dead to us”. Those who support certain ICC investigations, they threatened, will even be banned from entry to the United States.
Only last month Pompeo announced that US visas would be denied to ICC employees investigating the allegedly illegal activities of American soldiers and civilians during the Iraq and other wars in the Middle East. “We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” declared Pompeo rather, well, pompously.
The US has made it clear that it cares not one jot for international law when the finger of justice points directly at Uncle Sam or its closest allies, such as Israel. The principles of Nuremberg, which saw the surviving perpetrators and architects of the Holocaust brought to justice, are in intensive care at the moment. Indeed, the dwindling number of soldiers, sailors and airmen who lived through the Second World War, as well as their descendants, must wonder if their comrades fought and died in vain.
Emboldened by the self-serving interests of the US and Israel, it is hardly surprising, therefore, that barbaric, medieval-style public executions and crucifixions are carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its latest killing spree, one of the largest in Saudi’s history, saw 37 men executed on one day this week. One of those beheaded was then crucified, according to an Interior Ministry statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. That means that the corpse was “pinned” to a pole and put on display for several hours as a deterrent to others.
Did this deter global finance chiefs who boycotted a Saudi investment summit last year following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Hardly. This week they quite happily headed for Riyadh to help the Kingdom get trade and business back on track. Normal service has been resumed. When it comes to international business, it seems that human rights and the basic principles of justice protected by Nuremberg and the formation of the UN are all too easily pushed aside.
All is not lost, though. There are some glimmers of hope, thanks largely to individuals rather than governments. A team of lawyers is determined to overturn the decision of the ICC Prosecutor not to press charges against Israel for its brutal commando attack on the Mavi Marmara and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in international waters, on 31 May, 2010. Concerned parties, representing the victims from 37 countries, will come together at the ICC courthouse on 1 May to plead their case for justice.
An application was made to the ICC on behalf of Comoros, the state under whose flag the Mavi Marmara was registered, on 14 May, 2013. Following the application, a litigation process was launched against Israeli political and military officials on behalf of Comoros, Cambodia and Greece.
The ICC Prosecutor announced back in November 2014 that: “War crimes have been committed in the context of the interception of the Mavi Marmara and other vessels in the Flotilla by IDF soldiers on 31 May 2010, including namely \ wilful killing, wilfully causing serious injury to body and health, and committing outrages upon personal dignity.\ As Israel continued to have effective control over Gaza, it has the status of an occupying power. All the passengers of the Flotilla had the status of protected civilians under international law and the Israeli soldiers carried out the attack despite knowing the passengers were civilians.”
The Prosecutor further reinforced her dismissal of Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defence by stating that, “The autopsy reports of those killed indicate that they have received multiple shots in the head, legs and neck and at least 5 of the passengers who were killed were shot at close range.”
However, despite her findings that Israel may have committed crimes, the Prosecutor refused to open an investigation into the attack on the basis that it did not carry sufficient “gravity” to justify further action by the Court. Undeterred by the international politics which were obviously at play in this decision, the lawyers acting on behalf of the victims and survivors of the attack on the Mavi Marmara continued to appeal and the Prosecutor’s colleagues eventually concluded that she had erred in her judgement.
In another statement issued on 15 November last year, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber once again found that the Prosecutor’s decision was wrong and ordered her to reconsider. It has also requested the Prosecutor to reach a final decision by the deadline of 15 May 2019 in order to prevent an even more prolonged process. Unsurprisingly, the Prosecutor appealed against this decision.
Now the ICC Appeals Chamber has ruled that a hearing should be held on 1 May, next week, to listen to the ICC prosecutor and the lawyers of the victims. The hearing will be attended by family members of those shot and killed in cold blood, representatives of the flotilla organisers and some of the victims. The hearing will be broadcast live on the ICC website.
Those sitting in judgment need to be reminded that the ICC was established to prosecute crimes against humanity and so, if they are to honour their own roles in the process, they need to stand up to the international bullies who want to derail justice. Might isn’t always right, as the many massive and deadly errors of judgement made by democratic governments over the years demonstrate very well. If the ICC fails to stand up for the victims of the Mavi Marmara, the court itself should be closed for good, putting an end to the pretence that justice is available for everyone in this world. Justice for the Mavi Marmara victims is the last chance for the ICC to prove its worth.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.