Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 -12 May 2004
Issue No. 689
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Meeting in the capital of Europe from 14 to 17 April, the BRussells Tribunal brought together intellectuals and activists from Europe, the US and the Arab world to hear testimony on the role of the Project for the New American Century think-tank in promoting aggressive war as a means of reasserting US hegemony in a changing and unstable world (see Al-Ahram Weekly, 686, 15-21 April, Focus on the BRussels Tribunal). Below, we print the full text of the commission's conclusions, followed by extracts from the public debate which followed the final session, and personal statements by Egyptian commission members Samir Amin and Nawal El-Saadawi

'We are all redskins'

The formal presentation of the conclusions of the BRussels Tribunal was followed by an energetic debate between the public and the members of the commission. Here, we publish edited extracts from responses by Samir Amin and Dennis Halliday to questions raised from the floor

Question: In his testimony, Ramsey Clark stressed that the crime of aggression has existed in international law since the Nuremberg Trials. So it is obvious that the people who are responsible for this war committed a crime, and not just any crime. They committed the worst crime under international law: the disturbance of international peace.

Samir Amin : I'm very glad that you raised this question, because it is absolutely central to the questions that this Tribunal was set up to investigate. The aggression against Iraq is not just immoral, it is properly illegal.

From the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, not very far from here, as it happens, up until 1945, when the United Nations was created, sovereign states in the West had the right to declare war. There were certain limits which they set themselves as to how war might be conducted, but the right itself was never contested.

It was precisely because this principle eventually led to WWII, and all the dramas associated with it, that the world body decided to ban war. That is, one state is not allowed to attack another. It is only allowed to defend itself.

To my knowledge, Iraq had not yet attacked the United States when it was invaded. And even if it had, the only body that is authorised in international law to respond to such an act of aggression is the United Nations. Moreover, the UN cannot wage war as such, rather, it is authorised to intervene but only using means which are proportionate to the end, and in a temporary manner.

This principle is the fundamental principle of polycentrism: of a global system in which nations' and people's fundamental rights can be respected. And it is precisely this principle which has been blankly rejected in the policies of the Project for the New American Century. Unfortunately, such a rejection calls forth unfortunate comparisons, whether we like it or not: for the last person who blatantly rejected the idea that international relations should be regulated by law was a man called Adolf Hitler. Like the PNAC, he began by writing down his position in Mein Kampf, before going on to put them into practice. So what we are seeing today is a repetition of this pattern: first international law is negated in theory, and then that theory is put into practice. This is an extremely dangerous sequence of events.

This is a crime which we cannot accept. You will recall the debate on the Iraq war that took place in the UN Security Council, when the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique de Villepin, insisted that the law must be respected, and therefore that since there had been no act of aggression, no war could be conducted against Iraq in the circumstances which then held. Colin Powell's response was to tell de Villepin: You belong to the past. But Powell was wrong. Villepin belongs to the present, and to the future. It is Colin Powell who belongs to the past -- to the world before 1945, the world that produced Hitler. It is the position of the United States which is driving history into reverse. So now we find ourselves facing a fundamental political question: Do we want the world to be ruled by the absence of rules, as it was in the past? Or do we want the world to be ruled by rules?

Of course, those rules can be changed and adapted, and the institutions which have the responsibility of enforcing them may need to be reformed. But the central issue which is now under debate is the fundamental principle of whether we have any rules at all. Do we want there to be such a thing as international law? Or do we want the pax americana to become the lex americana : that is, a world in which there are no laws except those which the United States accepts as such? If so, this will entail the total disregard of the rights of all the peoples of the planet. And we will all, Europeans included, find we have become redskins. We will have the right to survive only to the extent that we do not come into conflict with so-called "American interests", which are not, in my opinion, the interests of the people of the United States, but of a minority of dominant economic corporations. That is the fundamental political choice facing us today.

Question : The central questions you have addressed are questions of law, and of the contradiction between international law and the conduct of the Bush administration. But I think that there are other aspects of the situation in Iraq which are becoming more and more important. We are seeing the beginning of a real defeat of American policy on the ground. One of the signs of this are the local cease-fires concluded by American commanders. This is a huge climbdown. And it is also one of the reasons why Bush now seems to be changing his tactics. In the last 24 hours, he has formally adopted a new position on the UN.

So I think that in the coming weeks and months perhaps the most important thing will be to try and define under what conditions a UN intervention could be useful, and legal. How should we try and think about that in the weeks going forward?

Dennis HallidayDennis Halliday : As the press statement says, we are deeply concerned about the United Nations and the European Union, either alone or through NATO, being dragged into the Iraqi quagmire by the United States, so as to protect them from their mistakes, cover their costs, and save their lives. And also, perhaps, to provide canon fodder for the future.

I think that the United Nations is in a very awkward situation. It has been highly compromised. The council has been corrupted, by Britain and the United States in particular, and the secretary-general seems sadly to have lost both his independence and his credibility. As you've quite rightly said, we now have both Blair and Bush asking the UN to basically come in and save the Americans' bacon. For the Americans are now having a very difficult time in Iraq: though that is nothing to match the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people themselves.

My view is simple, and in saying this, I speak for myself and not for the commission. The United Nations cannot enter Iraq at the invitation of the United States, Britain or the occupying force, of which Bremmer is the proconsul. In terms of providing peace-keeping, assistance with elections, or whatever else, the United Nations only responds to the invitation of a sovereign member state of the organisation. Though some might argue otherwise, right now we don't actually have a sovereign Iraqi state. That sovereignty has been stolen by Bush, Blair and the occupying force. Therefore, if the United Nations were foolish enough -- and you realise that by the United Nations, I mean the Member States and the Security Council, not the secretary-general, not the secretariat -- if they were foolish enough to go into Iraq under the present conditions, they would be collaborating with an illegal occupying force. And that would be another tragedy.

We've already seen the consequences of the UN's collaboration with the United States. The headquarters of the United Nations in Iraq, where I lived and worked myself for some time, was blown up as you may recall, and 22 UN staff were killed. In my view, that is the price of collaborating with the United States as an illegal occupying force.

Now what will happen on the first of July? None of us here knows. I get the feeling that Mr Bush himself doesn't really know. But I would very much hope that the United Nations will not be left carrying the baby, so to speak. The sovereignty of Iraq must be returned to the Iraqi people on 1 July. If they can constitute a representative entity in that interim period prior to elections at the beginning of 2005, then I would hope the UN can respond, with advice or assistance with elections, or whatever the Iraqi people feel is appropriate. But the key is, this is Iraq. Only the people of Iraq can determine what government they want, what system they want, and what assistance they want from the United Nations.

33% Off -- Al-Ahram Weekly Annual Subscription: $50 Arab Countries, $100 Other. Subscribe Now!
--- Subscribe to Al-Ahram Weekly ---

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Issue 689 Front Page
Front Page | Egypt | Region | Economy | International | Focus | Opinion | Reader's corner | Culture | Features | Living | Sports | Chronicles | Profile | Cartoon | People | Listings | EGYPT 2010 BID | BOOKS | TRAVEL
Current issue | Previous issue | Site map