Julian Moncloa writes from Cape Town: So, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wants Tony Blair and George Bush arraigned before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. That a very long shot, but it’s nice to see the Archbishop still searching for justice.
Last week Tutu refused to share a platform at a conference in Johannesburg with Blair. He insists that Bush and Blair lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He goes on to say that the Iraq war had destabilised the Middle East, making the world more unstable. In his opinion, it has directly led to the dreadful situation today in Syria and the stand0ff with Iran. The Blair-Bush plan, he says, was to remove Saddam Hussein. However, justifying the removal of Saddam on the grounds that he had massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens was ‘irrelevant to the morality of removing him’.
Blair has hit back already. He finds Tutu’s argument – that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant – bizarre. The former British Prime Minister pointed out that Iraq’s economy is now three times what it was in 2003 and that child mortality rates are down a third. This is a clever mix of a material and a humanitarian argument. Tony has not lost his touch.
In the bad old days before the ICC national leaders could declare war without lawyers deciding if it were criminal or not. No, not quite. The argument that leaders could be held to account for warfare surfaced in 1946 in Nuremberg. Nazi leaders were hanged for starting a conflagration which brought the world to the brink of disaster. Looking back at it, the grounds on which the verdicts were based are shaky. Everything the Nazis did, especially to the Jews, followed a legal format. Orders were given and carried out. So a Nazi could reply that he was simply following orders. To fail to do so meant death for him. What would you choose?
Nowadays a new industry has appeared: genocide studies. An army of specialists scours the world looking for evidence of genocide. A step lower are war crimes. The supposition is that lawyers can save the world. If they have their way they would outlaw all conflict and make the world a safer place. The UN has decided that Bashar Al Assad’s regime is guilty of committing war crimes. To sustain this argument the UN has to claim that Al Assad has declared war on his people. No war, no war crimes. Damascus would maintain it is defending itself against attacks by armed terrorists. This is dismissed out of hand.
How effective is the ICC? The Slobodan Milosevic trial lasted a little longer than he did. Had he known he would be sent to The Hague he would almost certainly have fought to the death in Belgrade. The same applies to Charles Taylor, the bloody dictator of Liberia. He was persuaded to step down and move to Nigeria. He thought he was safe. Instead he was brought to a Special Court for Sierra Leone in April and sent to jail. Muammar Gaddafi tried to bolt but not even Algeria would take him. So he fought to the bitter end. President Ben Ali of Tunisia saw the writing on the wall. He requested and was granted asylum in Saudi Arabia. As a result there was little bloodshed in Tunisia. Idi Amin, the blood soaked dictator of Uganda, was there before him. Will Bashar Al Assad pack his bags and move to Omsk or Tehran (Jeddah is not an option as he is an Alawi or Shia)? Unlikely. He knows he might be handed over to the ICC. So he will fight and fight.
The threat of the ICC is now counter-productive. Dictators who do not wish to languish in prison will choose to stay and bring down their country with them. A better method for ending bloody conflicts has to be found. Offering dictators a safe refuge is the obvious answer. However, since the UN has declared Al Assad guilty of war crimes, it cannot offer him safe refuge. The UN has shot itself in the foot.