18 June 2010

War as a prosecutable offence: This is a big f.... deal

War has, throughout the ages, almost been a sacrament for men. This was how men became men, by becoming warriors. In the last century, this began to change, perhaps because of the massive, horrifying and utterly pointless deaths of millions of men in the First World War -- a slaughter of unprecedented proportions. In any case, it began to lose its cachet.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg described aggressive wars as a "supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." The Nuremburg tribunal, and others since, have prosecuted those "other war crimes" but not the crime of aggressive war itself. It may have been a crime, but it was a crime above the law.

No longer. Last Saturday, at a conference in Kampala, the member states of the International Criminal Court gave waging aggressive war a precise meaning and made it a prosecutable crime in international law. The states made a resolution that criminalizes the use of force against another country in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and gives the Court the power to prosecute political and military leaders who plan, prepare, initiate or execute illegal wars.

The resolution also establishes the conditions under which the Court can exercise jurisdiction. Although the UN Security Council is the principal body that can classify an action as a crime of aggression, thus initiating judicial proceedings, if the Council doesn't act within six months, the Court can proceed on its own. This ensures that if the Security Council -- a political organ -- doesn't act, the Court is not hindered in its duty.

There are various restrictions. For example, the crime won't apply directly to non-member states (111 countries are members) and unfortunately this includes major powers such as China and the U.S. Nonetheless, including the crime of aggression as a prosecutable offence under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court fundamentally changes the ancient macho practice of warfare as "politics by other means."

History has been made. As Vice-president Joe Biden of the United States might say, "This is a big fucking deal."

1 comment:

  1. Britain IS a member and that leaves the way open for Blair and Straw to be tossed in the dock. The case against them is made more powerful because they knew resolution 1441 didn't authorize war. That led them to table a resolution seeking that specific authority. Having acknowledged the need for a direct authorization for war of aggression, they withdrew the motion when it became obvious it would fail on a vote. Game, set and match.