Of what use is international law? Does it mean anything, or is it simply a nice phrase which keeps fools warm?
It is 52 years since the most blatant land grab (The 67 War), some 40 since the US and Co destroyed Afghanistan and demoralised the invited Red Army, 30 since the forced break-up of Yugoslavia (see German unilateral recognition of Croatia) and 20 years since the violent introduction of the UN mandate of the Right to Protect (or R2P) which Serbia bore the initial brunt.
What have we learned over the decades? One thing seems to be, in spite of the Geneva conventions and the UN declarations — might makes right and if you have power, laws will be bent to your comfort. Proof of this can be seen with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the reactions to it. Why is it that when this annexation of a former (until the mid-50s) Russian state took place the whole world protested but the forceful creation of Kurdistan (carved from both Iraq and Syria by NATO) was not met with international outrage?
Why is it that no sanctions have been laid against Israel for the violent occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and the de jure annexation of the Golan Heights but the Russian annexation is deserving of sanctions, even after a plebiscite which has the same numbers as the one during the break-up of the USSR (80% or above)?
The answer is obvious. The Russians then as now, are not the global hegemon while the US is, and her allies are protected under the wings of her awe-inspiring military and its might.
Is the concept of international law something which is good in theory but unworkable in reality? I don’t think so; I actually believe that if the nations which have been browbeaten into silence simply band together, then there is no reason why international law cannot become a reality and not just a utopian concept. That means nations imposing sanctions on nations, individuals and accounts of those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It means actually charging, arresting and bringing to trial the accused. That is the only way to make international law viable again.
What are these crimes, and who are the actors that must be brought to account? The crimes are the overt and covert wars, the proxy wars, wars of aggression and sanctions, the theft of natural resources and finite rare minerals. Those who should face their accusers are the kings and queens, the prime ministers and presidents, the generals, the bankers, the heads of major corporations and intelligence chiefs. They must, if international law is to have any meaning, face the legal wrath of the Global South for the crimes which they have carried out against us.
How else, if not by that, will international law have any meaning? How can we in the Global South call for international law while not charging or arresting the heads of international banks who manage the wealth our criminals and launder and store our stolen riches (oftentimes with no questions asked, a lot of times knowingly)? Do we want this if we still clamour to be around people who have led and ordered the violent destruction of our regions, in the process making independence a far-off dream?
International law should be just that, international, and not simply the plaything of powerful nations, companies and their accomplices? Either it means something, is bigger than any single country and something we are all beholden to, or we live in a dark age.
It is madness that China is raked over the coals for re-education camps while the US maintains Guantanamo prison complex, Australia the Manus Island refugee detention centre. If international law means anything, those who have paved the way for fascists, the religious right and destroyers of the environment should not remain free.
Those who bomb, financially rape, steal resources, force unnecessary migration flows and steal our best and brightest simply must be brought to account if this concept is to retain any sense of meaning and relevance.
If not, then it is might makes right, and then a call to arms is needed as there are more of us than there are of them. If it is might makes right, then look forward to more instability and conflict especially as the global south battles with the north for its very existence.
No one wants that, be they the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US who state that a hot war with say Iran would mean attrition, or the revolutionaries in the global south who strive for a new and just society by any means necessary. No one wants conflict, least of all residents of the global south who know that win, lose or draw they will bear the brunt of any conflict. But, if it is that we do live in this jungle, then fight we must, and we should prepare as such.
We in the global south don’t want or yearn for the conflict which will only destroy us in the short term. We, at the same time, long for a day when international law is a real thing and applied to all’. The Chagos islanders with their successful suit against the UK government, the Afghan citizens who have forced the ICC to launch investigations into US atrocities, the Chilean citizens who hounded the EU until Pinochet was returned to face trial have shown that it is possible to hold those to account and that judges worldwide are more than willing to review their cases.
Piecemeal justice however is not enough and will not save us. Either we hold rogues and bandits to account, or we should all come to terms with the fact that we are living in some form of new dark age and start looking for feudal lords and manors to protect us. Either we nut up and arrest and prosecute the culprits or say loudly that the concept of international law is a joke and we are all just colonies.
It’s time we accept the fact that justice is never granted by the powerful, not an equitable one anyway, and the history of the global south is living testament to that. Any bit of justice which we got, we had to fight for it. We fought for the return of Pinochet, fought for the generals in Argentina to face the courts and fought so that South Africa would be free. They would never have been given to us had we not fought. We must take heart and learn from the citizens of the Niger Delta who will soon have their cases heard against Shell in the Hague and the Indians of the Amazon rainforest who have actually won their cases against the companies (and officials) who have destroyed their lives.
We must name names, take them to court and make them fearful of the knock on the door or the hand on the shoulder at an airport. Either we take this to the next level and demand in a unified voice and with united action justice, or accept that international law is dead and that we are but the playthings of the powerful.