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The Collapse of International Law

by Brian Risman, Publisher, www thelawjournal co uk - 26 May 2003

International law has collapsed into a maelstrom of political machinations and power plays. What used to be considered a 'higher law' has become meaningless on a legal end -- and the tool of choice for international activists and generals.

Keeping politics out of the justice system has been a goal of domestic legal systems. Witness the recent House of Lords decisions limiting the power of the Home Secretary, a political cabinet position, to intervene on criminal sentences. Limiting the politics -- if not eliminating it totally -- allows the legal system and its decisions to be respected by all. While reality sometimes falls short of that goal, there is no doubt that the ideal still holds.

In the international arena, however, such ideals are meaningless. Politics is the entire game. Justice is irrelevant. Many people feel that George W. Bush's unilateralist policies has brought politics into international law, with a 'cowboy' mentality. The reality is, however, that politics has always permeated international law. The United Nations backing of the U.S. position on the Korean War in 1950 was made possible by the then-Western domination of the international body. Equally, the later domination of the United Nations by the Communist and Third World blocs led to knee-jerk condemnations according to their agenda. This situation resulted in the United States withholding funding to the United Nations. And with good reason -- with vicious dictatorships lecturing the democracies, and with the former controlling altruistic committees, including most recently the Human Rights Committee, there is little wonder that the United Nations has lost credibility.

Yet the United States has engaged in international power plays of its own, using its economic muscle to largely dictate international treaties, such as the TRIPS Agreement covering Intellectual Property rights. That agreement is so biased in favour of the United States, that no other country can seriously present an economic competitive challenge in the area of high technology.

The disgust with international bodies, particularly in the United States, has led to that country's refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. While that organisation should have a positive effect on the world, the United States is not wrong in predicting that prosecutions will only be brought for political reasons. Belgium is the prototype of political prosecutions. Belgium has allowed multiple attempts to try Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, even rewriting laws after failing to establish its jurisdiction in its own courts to try foreigners for alleged crimes on foreign soil. Now a war crimes case has been launched against Tommy Franks, the U.S. commanding General in the Second Iraq War. The credibility of international prosecutions has become a source of derision and laughter, mingled with disgust. Are these public figures criminals, or more likely targets of political agendas? Clearly the latter. So much so, that world figures both past and present are opting to steer clear of Belgium.

The politics of International Law is a major reason why the United States and the United Kingdom opted to stop dealings with the United Nations over Iraq, and launch their unilateral campaign. However, their action really fell into the same category of politics rather than justice -- namely, we will do what we want to do, and no one is strong enough to stop us. And they were right -- to the point that the United Nations, even in the face of the American inability to establish peace and an orderly, democratic society in Iraq, granted the U.S. and U.K. a mandate to administer Iraq over the next year -- or really, until the U.S. decides to leave. Business interests such as Dick Cheney's Halliburton and even WorldCom (now MCI) have been accordingly granted lucrative contracts in Iraq. That is, unless a Shiite Moslem fundamentalist revolution erupts, sponsored by Iran next door. That will change the entire equation. Please see our previous articles on Iraq.

So it is clear that no country, except the naive few, truly believe that International Law truly exists. What really exists is politics, raw politics. Justice? Not a chance.

Brian Risman

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