The Hague will always be a tool of the West
Desmond Tutu is wrong to believe that dragging Blair before the ICC will make that institution more democratic.
‘In a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague.’
So declared archbishop Desmond Tutu in a damning article in Sunday’s Observer. He was explaining that his reason for refusing to speak at a recent seminar alongside British ex-prime minister Tony Blair was the ‘staggering cost’ of Blair’s decision, alongside the then US president George Bush, to go to war in Iraq. ‘More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced’, Tutu claimed. ‘By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.’ Tutu believes it is grossly unfair that while some demand that ‘Robert Mugabe should go to the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair [joins] the international speakers’ circuit’.
Tutu is right to highlight the double standards of The Hague. Judging by the track record of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it is a racist institution. As it stands, all of the 29 individuals indicted in the ICC – including the 16 people brought before the court, and the one person who has been sentenced – have been African. Indeed, being Arab Africans, Muammar Gaddafi and his close relatives are the only people to have been indicted who aren’t black.
This fact has led British QC Courtenay Griffiths, who acted as a defence lawyer for Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor at a recent trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone at a venue in The Hague, to ask: ‘How is it possible that we have a situation where every indicted individual at the ICC is African and every investigation is, guess where, Africa? The ICC was set up to try those lesser breeds without the law – the Africans. This is the same civilising mission from the late nineteenth century and I find it, as a black man, totally objectionable.’
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Not only is it almost entirely black people who are indicted by the ICC, but the countries where the majority of ICC-indicted individuals come from are some of the poorest in the world. It’s as if the ICC sees itself as a legal equivalent of a soup kitchen, spooning out indictments to countries starved of true justice. But the solution does not lie, as Tutu believes, in taking a more consistent, colourblind approach towards who gets indicted to The Hague. Bush and Blair being ‘made to answer for their actions in The Hague’, as Tutu puts it, wouldn’t redress the balance and make the ICC any more fair. The real problem with the ICC is the extent to which it operates apart from the populace, in an elevated legalistic bubble, where international judges assume authority over political matters.
Tellingly, the unaccountability of the ICC to the demos – any demos – is not what troubles many commentators, even those opposed to the Iraq War. The question, for many, isn’t whether Bush and Blair did the right thing by invading Iraq, it’s whether or not they broke any laws in doing so. As one Guardian commentator wrote this week: ‘There was also a moral case for not invading Iraq… But a moral case (and who has launched an aggressive war in modern times without claiming to possess one?) does not provide a legal basis.’
Even radical writers like Slavoj Zizek choose to place their faith in the ultimate temple of justice that is The Hague, rather than wanting to see brutal dictators being tried by their own people. During the Arab Spring last year, Zizek did not call for the Egyptian people to pass judgement upon Mubarak, the despot who had ruled over them for decades. Instead, argued Zizek, Mubarak should be sent ‘to The Hague’. ‘If there is a leader who deserves to sit there’, he concluded, ‘it is him’. Such an attitude is also shared by a wide range of Western commentators towards the desire of the Libyan people to try the son of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Saif, on their home soil. Better, many think, that he’s extradited to The Hague where true justice, free of the prejudices of the people who engaged in a messy political struggle against him, can take place. Should this happen, the capacity to self-govern would be ripped out of the hands of the Libyan people, and given to their supposed superiors in the West who can show them how it should be done.
Tutu’s calls for Blair and Bush to face trial at The Hague are likely to go unheeded for now. But on 1 January 2017, the ICC is expanding its remit to cover ‘crimes of aggression’, at which point it is likely to face a deluge of demands by campaigners to put the Iraq warmongers in the dock. Not in the name of morality, though, but to see if they can be hung using legal rope.
Despite the pleasure it may give some to imagine seeing Blair behind bars – fantasies about which have even been televised in the 2007 More4 drama The Trial of Tony Blair – such an expansion of the ICC’s remit is not to be welcomed. It may redress the colour balance in terms of who is tried, but it would also add to the number of areas of political life that international lawyers can rule over and pass judgement upon. And, as a result, the ever-increasing gulf between so-called international justice and the political will of the people is widened.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes. He is producing the session Europe’s new far right, fear or fantasy? at the Battle of Ideas festival, on Saturday 20 October.