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Commentary :: DNC : DNC : Human Rights
The UN and Trial of Saddam H.
17 Dec 2003
Summary: Saddam in captivity, even Charles Taylor in exile as well as the U.S. victorious all pose the questions: Who should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity? Do the moral spoils of war belong to the victor alone? What is sovereignty without liberation? This is one of half a dozen critical tests of the role of the United Nations and International Court – overshadowed by the recent history of US unilateralism . . .

An international criminal court held in Iraq can be organized by Iraqi prosecutors for the Iraqi people. Prosecution of the victors is, however, a matter to take up at The Hague, with or without the US signature on the ICC accords.
The UN has, from the beginning, been used by the States as a tool of global policy. A recent article in New Left Review (Issue no. 24; Nov-Dec 2003) by Peter Gowan summarizes that history and is worth a read.

The UN got a percentage of the revenues during the blockade of Iraq and during the Oil for Food program.

The UN was treated like a water boy for Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration. Robin Philpot gets into that nicely regarding the disaster that was Rwanda in an article run on CounterPunch.

Sure, as a youngster I admired the UN. Once in Grade 6 I did a report in class about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As far as I could see, that document came straight out of the UN and it opened my eyes to how slavery could exist as economic servitude, especially in rural settings and in emerging agriculturally based countries.
Many denunciations of the global trade in children, arms, and, for just one example, blood diamonds have come out of UN committees. Popular protests have gained power from the force of many of the UN's reports and revelations.

I am not naive about the UN, however. Looking at the world with a magnifying glass is not the same thing as changing the world for the better. In fact, it can be for the worse. Look at the U.S. State Department's Country Reports that come out annually. You would think State's summaries of the abuses of rights and liberties had been written by a well-funded think tank of Leninists and revolutionary humanists. But then we know that these recordings of abuse in Other Lands are used as a club to promote the foreign policy and economic control of the United States or its proxy interests in international banking and trade.

Now, however, there is a debate going on about the UN on the Left and it will not be resolved soon. One side of the debate focuses on the Global Forums of the non-governmental organizations and their role in imposing a Western vision and values on the Third World.

Here, what I am interested in is the side of the debate that looks at the International Criminal Court in its handful of manifestations — The Hague for the Balkans and the trial of Milosevic — Sierra Leone for West Africa and the trial of the RUF leadership — Rwanda and the trial of the genocidaires responsible for half a million people murdered in a low-tech conspiracy of ethnic cleansing.

The issues are not apple pie and the answers are not as simple as toast and jam. What it comes down to in all these trials is that the defense (apart from arguing that the court has no jurisdiction) has a high degree of legitimacy in arguing that the state powers that are represented by the prosecution should themselves be the ones who are put on trial.

We're not talking here about Milosevic defending himself. Even the lawyers and diplomats around the various tribunals, if they are at all open to the defense, argue that the winners should also be tried for the human rights violations, the instances of carte blanche offered for war crimes, and the various attentats or murders perpetrated by the winners (by winners we mean NATO, the Yankee-Brit alliance, the mercenaries hired to clean up Sierra Leone, as well as Kagame's forces both when they were in exile in Uganda and when they took power and started bombing in Congo).

The argument is that in the current arrangement, the trial of the losers by the winners ends up always amounting to the same thing. That you denominate the court International with a capital "i", in the view of many Leftists as well as reactionary nationalists, does not change the logic of the victor taking the spoils — in this case legal, moral and ethical spoils.
I wish I could confidently state that I do not buy the argument for the defense against the International Criminal Court. I cannot, however, reject the defense in these trials out of hand. In all the instances of the world courts, including Nuremberg, I see a definite need, in another venue, to turn the tables on the prosecution (the victors) and put them on trial for their disregard for life and fundamental rights and liberties.

But I would not abolish the ICC. There is simply too much good will on the part of the best people on the prosecuting side. There are, stated a bit naively I admit, dedicated folks struggling to make these trials into a motor force for peace and the non-violent resolution of conflict. Who does not see that at least a handful of organizations and militants use the Rwanda prosecutions as an example of the need to intervene forcefully and early to stop ethnic cleansing?

Don't misunderstand. The United States can apparently veto action by the UN peacekeepers. The United States is the main source of training and materiel for the West African peacekeeping force, ECOWAS. But things are getting better, even at this level. Compare the misbehavior of the Nigerian peacekeepers six years ago with their better discipline in Liberia today. That is the direction we should go in, and the ICC court sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone is part of that picture — whether or not they brought Charles Taylor before the bar.

The reason I am discussing this at this time is that the question of putting Saddam Hussein on trial has suddenly come up with his capture. On the eZine Miami Education Review, my brother, Brian Peterson, came out with an editorial calling for an international criminal court to try Saddam Hussein — not an Iraqi nor an American tribunal. I agree with Brian's position.

Do not fall into the trap of seeing an ICC in Baghdad as simply a bunch of jurists from industrialized countries outside the region trying the Ba'athists by capitalist-western standards. Yes, that will be the main diet. But such a court that is set up properly will include leaders and reps from Iraqi civil society and should, say, include a/some member(s) of the banned Iraqi communist party if for no other reason than to increase the court's legitimacy.

Two wrongs don't make a right. I cannot support the notion that the defense of Saddam should be the forum to put the U.S. and Britain on trial for the violation of the sovereignty of Iraq and the devastation wreaked on her people (you know the story of arms support from France, Britain, U.S., etc. for war with Iran, ethnic cleansing used on Kurds, etc., and et cetera.) For such a trial of the victorious, I would like to see that take place at The Hague at a renewed ICC.

Ross Peterson is an independent writer, translator and editor living in Montreal, Quebec.
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Re: The UN and Trial of Saddam H.
18 Dec 2003
For a trial that can stand up to scrutiny, Saddam Hussein should have access to a lawyer and be monitored by the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch from this moment on.
18 Dec 2003
Saddam or Bush...Both are criminals. Both created atrocities.I agree with the comment above.