The war crimes conference last week has given hope to many that justice can be done. Follow-up is now needed by the KL War Crimes Commission and Tribunal.
LAST week, Kuala Lumpur was the venue for a very significant event that potentially could lead to a globally historic development. The conference on Expose War Crimes – Criminalise War was not just another meeting of people disaffected by the recent military actions of the United States and its allies.
It had the prestige and status of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad behind it, or more accurately, in front of it.
It brought together victims of war crimes and torture, and persons enduring ongoing occupation and war situations.
It promises concrete, important follow-up actions. People who have suffered from war crimes and occupation of their countries can now take up cases against those that oppress them.
The conference, organised by the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, established the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission chaired by Dr Mahathir. It will investigate cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been neglected by established institutions such as the International Criminal Court.
A pro tem committee has also been set up to establish a Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal which will hear cases submitted to it by the commission.
The commission convened last Wednesday to hear a petition to take up cases of war crimes and violations of international law against US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Premier John Howard.
The commission will now investigate if there is a basis for the charges against the three leaders. If so, the tribunal will be set up to hear the case.
The commission and tribunal are not established by any government or inter-governmental body. The initiators explained that they are “people’s initiatives,” in the footsteps of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal established during the Vietnam War to consider the war actions of the US administration.
Of global significance is that there is now a place where victims of war crimes can register their complaints, and cases can be brought against the accused, even if they are powerful world leaders.
Official institutions, like the International Criminal Court, do try those accused of war crimes and genocide. But they are dominated by Western powers, and have taken up cases against powerful Western leaders.
That is why there has been no action against those powers that invaded Iraq or bombed Lebanon, even though these actions are widely regarded as illegal.
Dirk Adrieansens, coordinator of SOS Iraq and committee member of the Brussels War Crimes Tribunal, told the conference that the International Criminal Court acknowledged it had received 240 formal complaints of violation from Iraq but it had described them as not grave enough to open up a case.
He said the war on Iraq was illegal with blatant falsehoods used to justify the assault. Legal instruments failed to avoid the attack. “The impunity of the United States and its allies has created a crisis of legitimacy of international law and the United Nations to address war crimes with authority or dignity.”
The conference included a hearing of a petition, with nine charges against Bush, Blair and Howard of crimes against peace and violations of the United Nations Charter and international laws for their roles in the crises in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.
Counsel for the victims, Mathias Chang, said that the three leaders embarked on a systematic campaign to destroy Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. They directed the destruction of vital facilities essential to civilian life in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, which is a gross violation of the UN Charter and several conventions.
They ordered the bombing and destruction of schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, residential areas, historical sites, used prohibited weapons, fraudulently manipulated the United Nations and its Security Council, destroyed the environment, condoned the violation of human rights (especially torture), and manipulated the mass media, according to the charges.
Several victims of torture, imprisonment and war from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine as well as experts presented testimonies. Among them was Ali Shalah, an Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison and whose image as a hooded man forced to stand with his hands stretched out was evidence of maltreatment by American guards.
Others included Abbas Abid, a former Iraqi government chief engineer who testified how he was electrocuted and beaten; a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, Najwa Jalamna, who spoke on her experiences at Jenin camp in the occupied Palestinian territories; Palestinian doctor Walid Salah, who testified on medical conditions in Palestine and how his work was hampered by Israeli occupying forces; and editor Ibrahim Mousawi who spoke on the devastating 33-day Israeli attack on Lebanon last year.
Dr Mahathir said the commission would study the evidence given and if there was sufficient ground, it would request the tribunal to hear the cases and pass judgment.
The tribunal is still being set up and several internationally known jurists are expected to be invited to be members.
Tribunal committee member law professor Shad Faruqi said the tribunal might not have “legality” but it would have legitimacy arising from the lack of remedy for those who have been brutalised but have no other avenue to seek redress. “Our decisions may not be respected by those who may be tried, but we can rely on international public opinion.”
Another tribunal member, lawyer Mohamad Ariff Yusof, added: “The international law system is not perfect so it beholds citizens of the world to correct the imperfections.”
Dr Mahathir said the war on terror proposed by Bush was a trick and an excuse to invade Iraq and use it to control Middle East oil.
Setting up the commission and tribunal were actions to show that something could be done by citizens. Putting those responsible on trial would help galvanise world public opinion, which Dr Mahathir described as the world’s second superpower.
The ball is now in the court of the Perdana Global Peace Organisation to follow up. The next steps are for the commission to make its decision, and for a credible tribunal to be set up, made up of internationally renowned judges and legal experts.
It is a vitally important exercise, not only to be a place where victims can seek redress, but also for influencing world opinion and giving hope to the many people who are angry but feel helpless at what is happening.
If the commission and tribunal conduct their work professionally, collecting and assessing evidence while following proper legal procedures, it can earn the respect of the world and make a mark on international affairs.
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