Wednesday, 10 November 2010

On international laws

I just happened to read an article in the French daily "Lemonde" which suggested that the former American president George W Bush personally authorised CIA agents to use the "waterboarding" technique to interrogate prisoners in the wake of 9/11.

Interestingly, human rights experts have mentioned that Bush's admission would theoretically render him liable to criminal action. Even more interestingly, current president Barack Obama has declared that the agents who used the technique cannot be proceeded against for the use of waterboarding as they were only acting on orders.

Subsequent to World War II, all surviving German leaders and a host of others (notably doctors and military commanders) were put on trial for war crimes. There also was the Yamashita trial which established the principle of 'command responsibility'. The now legendary Nuremberg trials established long-held principles of international human rights laws. Under those laws, the likes of Rumsfeld and even George Bush ought to be put on trial.

Its an altogether different matter that they will not. And therein lies the whole irony. The question needs to be asked: does international law count for anything, when the nations that created those laws themselves do not observe them? After all, there was not even a serious investigation into war crimes by allied forces or statesmen. Not a single French officer to my knowledge (subject to correction) was ever put on trial for war crimes in Algeria more than a decade after 1945, by which time the principles of the Nuremberg Trials had long been enshrined.

Or, to pose a slightly more tricky question, do international laws have any sanctity? Let's face it: wartime atrocities and victor's justice are as old as civilisation itself. Much as we may want to wish them off or put a ban on them under inernational laws, the unfortunate reality is that they are inevitable. Under the circumstances, its hard not to ask the question, why have them at all? If the law that applies to Robert Mugabe does not equally apply to Mr. Bush, why on earth are we even bothering to keep up the pretence that exists a framework for administration of justice internationally?

Do not get me wrong, I am not opposed to having a code of conduct or a set of international laws to regulate the protection of human rights. In fact I would be the first to support the existence thereof. What I definitely do not agree with, is applying different yardsticks for different people. If the laws are not going to be applied uniformly, the very purpose of creating them is defeated. And so my contention is, either have international laws in place and enforce them uniformly or just give up the farce. For sure, there can be no middle path on this matter.