Tag Archives: United Nations

Libya: The West vs. The United Nations

Libya: The West vs. The United Nations
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
28 September 2017

The United Kingdom joined the NATO military intervention in Libya “to uphold the will of the United Nations Security Council”, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons on the eve of the war. Six years on and the UK government continues to cite the authority of the UN to justify their actions in Libya, with the Foreign Office noting last month that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had visited Tripoli “to discuss what more the UK can do to support the [UN-backed] Government of National Accord (GNA) and the UN-led political process to help stabilise Libya.”

A bit of background. There are currently two rival power centres competing for legitimacy and control in Libya – the GNA led by Fayez al-Serraj and a rival authority in the east of the country under the control of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). More broadly, Libya is wracked by violence and chaos – a hellish mess that NATO bears significant responsibility for. “Continuing armed clashes have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and interrupted access to basic services, including fuel and electrical power. Forces engaged in the conflict are guilty of arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killings, indiscriminate attacks, disappearances, and the forceful displacement of people”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. “Hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, including children, who flock to Libya mostly en route to Europe, experience torture, sexual assault and forced labour at the hands of prison guards, members of the coast guard forces and smugglers.”

The “crucial question”, the Foreign Secretary argued in March this year, is “How to make sure that Haftar is in some way integrated into the government of Libya.”

So who is Haftar? “Libya’s most powerful and polarising figure”, is how Frederic Wehry, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summed him up in The Atlantic magazine. The septuagenarian Haftar served as a Field Marshal in Gaddafi’s army, leading Libyan forces in the Chad war, before being forced into exile in the US, “where he developed close links with the CIA”, according to the House of Commons Library blog. In 2011 he returned to Libya and emerged as a rebel commander in the NATO-backed uprising in which Gaddafi was toppled and killed. Asserting himself after the NATO war, in 2014 Haftar announced “Operation Dignity”, ostensibly a campaign to defeat terrorists in Benghazi, though some observers see the military surge as more complex. Writing in the London Review of Books, foreign correspondent Tom Stevenson notes Haftar “has been taking on Islamic State, non-IS jihadists, and anyone else who stands up to him”, while Ahmed el-Gasir from the group Human Rights Solidarity told Al Jazeera last month that many perceived “Operation Dignity” as an attempted military coup. Indeed, a March 2017 report from the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) which was compiled after two council staff members travelled to Libya and met Haftar, notes he “sees his mission as a national project covering all of Libya.”

Not mentioned in the CMEC report is the fact human rights groups have highlighted numerous abuses committed by forces aligned with Haftar, “who seem to have torn up the rule book”, according to Hanan Salah, HRW’s senior Libya researcher. Having visited Benghazi earlier this year, Wehry notes “reports of torture, disappearances, and the destruction of property emerge with numbing frequency”, with forces armed by Haftar responsible for many of the abuses.

“The tactics employed by Gaddafi in 2011 created certain divisions between towns or tribes, but they do not compare to what Haftar has done… the level of violence and disregard to the sanctity of human life and value of human dignity is unprecedented in Libyan society”, notea el-Gasir. Politically, Wehry warns of Haftar’s “militarization of governance”, in which “he has replaced elected municipal leaders with uniformed military officers” while “the Gaddafi-era intelligence apparatus is back on the payroll.”

However, despite the West’s public backing for the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli, last year Middle East Eye, citing air traffic recordings they had obtained, reported “a multinational military operation involving British, French and US forces is coordinating air strikes in support of” Haftar from a base near Benghazi. This backing is confirmed by Wehry, who notes “The French, the British, and the Americans sent special operators who provided varying levels of intelligence and front-line support” to Haftar. Middle East Eye’s scoop about the West’s relationship with Haftar followed another expose from the news website that reported the British Special Air Service (SAS) were fighting Islamic State in Libya, alongside Jordanian special forces.

More recently, Middle East Eye reported that leaked 2014 emails between the UAE Ambassador to the US and the then US National Security Advisor Susan Rice seem to “indicate that the United States knew about illegal arms shipments to rebels in Libya” from the UAE. This transfer – which likely went to Haftar’s forces – would, of course, have contravened the UN arms embargo – established with the backing of the US and the UK in February 2011.

The West’s support for Haftar is dangerous for three reasons. First, the US and UK are assisting a “warlord” (the Guardian’s description) whose forces have been accused of numerous war crimes by human rights groups. Second, the West’s backing for the Field Marshal is undermining attempts at national reconciliation. “Support by Western special forces, particularly French, to General Haftar has made it more difficult to reach a compromise with him because he thinks he has important external backing and therefore does not need to compromise with the unity government”, Mattia Toaldo, a Libya specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the Middle East Eye. Finally, supporting Haftar runs counter to the West’s professed support for the UN-backed government in Tripoli, the UN peace process and the UN arms embargo.

Frustratingly, the West’s shady dealings in Libya have gone largely unreported by the supposedly critical and fiercely independent UK fourth estate. Shamefully, one has to read the Middle East Eye and American magazine The Atlantic to find out about the support the UK has given Haftar. The British media has a similarly woeful record when it comes to UK involvement in the Syrian war, with the New York Times, rather than a British newspaper, reporting in 2013 that UK intelligence services had been working covertly with Saudi Arabia and the US to funnel arms to rebels.

“If people really knew the war would be stopped tomorrow.  But of course they don’t know and can’t know.” This was Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s reaction after listening to an account of the fighting on the Western Front during the First World War.

What would be the British public’s reaction to the UK’s covert interventions in Libya today? Unless British journalists start doing their jobs we may never find out.

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Antonio Guterres’s United Nations: a democratic institution?

Antonio Guterres’s United Nations: a democratic institution?
by Ian Sinclair
The New Arab
11 January 2017

“We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person”.

The humane, internationalist and poetic preamble to the United Nations (UN) Charter is one of the many reasons the UN continues to be a broadly popular institution, with the Pew Research Center noting in 2013 that “publics around the world continue to have a positive impression of the international organization”.

Having taken over from Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2017, the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, like his predecessors, become “a secular saint, an ambassador of peace and voice of the poor and downtrodden”, according to The Guardian’s Julian Borger.

Western governments have instinctively understood the importance of the UN’s popularity to their own foreign policy objectives. For example, the University of Connecticut’s Dr Stephen Benedict Dyson notes that in the run up to the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair “was aware that his stance on Iraq was not popular but remained confident that he could achieve support with a campaign of public persuasion, bolstered by the international diplomacy that would secure UN cover.” And Blair was right. Though he failed to get UN backing, polling conducted by Ipsos MORI just before the invasion showed that the backing of the UN would have massively increased support for the war among the British public.

Considering the global public’s high opinion of the UN, and the important ramifications this popularity can have, it is worth taking time to investigate just how democratic the UN is, and how the most senior position in the organisation is appointed.

With the UN set up in 1945 by the victors of World War Two, the 15-member Security Council dominates, wielding the real authority in the organisation, able to make and enforce decisions. In contrast, the far more representative 193-member, one-nation-one-vote General Assembly is relegated to a deliberative role, its resolutions recommendations only.

Within the Security Council itself the P5 – the permanent members of the Security Council, the US, UK, France, China and Russia – hold the real power. The other ten seats are non-permanent, with nations elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Importantly, the P5 have the power to veto any resolution put before the group, even if it has majority support among the 15 members.

“The US is such a big power that it has enormous clout in the Security Council as its defacto ‘majority leader’, putting together the votes and resources to make things happen”, notes international affairs specialist Jeffrey Laurenti.

Accordingly, “for almost 30 years (since 1984) the leading wielder of the veto in the UN security council has been the United States”, explained John Weston, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN between 1995-98, in 2013. Most of Washington’s vetoes have been deployed for a specific reason – since 1982 the US has used its veto 35 times to block resolutions critical of Israel.

Beyond using its veto the US has a variety of other methods it can use to get its way. When Yemen joined Cuba on 29 November 1990 in voting against a Security Council resolution authorising force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait, a US official told the Yemeni ambassador “That was the most expensive vote you will have cast”. Shortly afterwards the US aid budget to Yemen was severely cut.

With the US and UK once again looking for the UN’s stamp of approval as they geared up for war in Iraq 13 years later, massive pressure was again applied to the members of the Security Council. The US Ambassador to Mexico warned that if Mexico didn’t support the US it could alienate members of the US Congress. “Relatively straightforward issues related to Mexico” might be “difficult to pass”, he said. President George Bush was blunter, absurdly telling the Mexican President Vicente Fox “I want your vote, the security of the United States is at stake”.

Alongside this bullying diplomacy, the US, working with the UK, instituted a ‘dirty tricks’ spying campaign against the Security Council – involving the interception of the home and office telephones and emails of UN delegates – which was heroically uncovered by Government Communications Headquarters’s whistleblower Katharine Gun.

“When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow”, noted John Bolton, Under-Secretary of State for International Organizations under President George H Bush, in 1994. “When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests we will not.” This arrogant pick ’n’ mix attitude to working with the UN is also held by members of the Democratic Party establishment, with Madeleine Albright, the US Ambassador to the UN under President Clinton, telling the Security Council “We will act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally as we must.”

Sadly, the undemocratic structure of the UN is reflected in the secretive and opaque process used to choose the Secretary-General. Traditionally the Secretary-General has been chosen behind closed doors by the Security Council, and then presented to the General Assembly for approval.  There is no public record of these discussions except for brief communiques from the Security Council President, and at any point the P5 can veto a candidate.

Borger notes Ki-moon was the US’s preferred candidate ten years ago. During the recently concluded contest, Borger maintains Vuk Jeremic, the ex-Serbian foreign minister, will likely have been vetoed by Washington because of his opposition to an independent Kosovo.

However, it is not all doom and gloom: there are chinks of hope in this relentless pursuit of national interest and power. Proposals for reform have been repeatedly raised by many nations.

Conveniently, in the West ‘reform’ has largely been interpreted at considering the UN’s financial management and inefficiencies. Writing in her essential 1996 book Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN, Phyllis Bennis has a different take: “The key UN problem… is the question of power.” Suggestions to equalise the existing rank power imbalance include enlarging the Security Council to be more representative of the planet’s population; restricting the Security Council’s currently wide mandate; curtailing or abolishing the P5’s veto power; and empowering the General Assembly.

One small victory was the opening up of the process to appoint Guterres himself, with the contest beginning with all the candidates publicly explaining their ideals and intentions to the General Assembly – the first time this has happened. This increased transparency arose from pressure applied by the 1 For 7 Billion movement, a campaign supported by 750 organisations across the world working for “an open and inclusive selection process, with genuine involvement by all UN Member States.”

The Security Council still got to choose the final candidate but it is a small step in the right direction. “What we are doing is raising the costs for the permanent five of parachuting a candidate in at the last moment”, Natalie Samarainghe, the Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK, told The Guardian last year. “So it could still be a stitch-up but it wouldn’t happen without an outcry.”

Lifting the lid on US ‘dirty tricks’ at the UN: interview with Katharine Gun

Lifting the lid on US ‘dirty tricks’ at the UN: interview with Katharine Gun
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
December 2008

On 31 January 2003, Katharine Gun, a 28-year old Mandarin linguist at Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, arrived at work to find she had been copied in to an email from Frank Koza at the American National Security Agency.  

With the US and UK facing stiff opposition at the United Nations to its aggressive stance on Iraq, the email explained how the American and British intelligence agencies were mounting a dirty tricks operation at the Security Council in an attempt to gain support for an invasion.

Horrified by the criminal content of the email, Gun passed it, via a friend, first to journalist Yvonne Ridley and then to the Observers Martin Bright, who published it in the paper on 2 March 2003.  

As she sits sipping tea in a coffee shop in Cheltenham, Gun – now 34-years old and holding her five-month old daughter in her lap – tells me she was a nervous wreck in the few days between the leak being published and admitting to GCHQ she was the whistleblower.  Under intense pressure, Gun was sacked from her job, briefly held in police custody, had her house searched and was charged under the Official Secrets Act.  I was on bail for eight months and that was really difficult because I didnt know what was going to happen, so there were times when I was really low, she remembers.

She thinks around 100 other people saw Kozas email, which begs the question: why did Gun act and no one else?  Her past life – growing up in Taiwan and moving to England for her A levels – give few clues.  Asked about her politics, Gun says she voted Labour in the 1997 General Election:  Cool Britannia – finally we were getting rid of the Conservatives.  I was all excited like everyone else.  Then, like so many other people, she quickly became disillusioned by New Labour.  I realised this whole business about an ethical foreign policywas just a catchphrase.  Then 9/11 happened and all the rhetoric started to increase towards military interventions.  

Gun was facing the very real possibility of a prison sentence, but on the day that her trial was scheduled to begin the Government mysteriously dropped the charges.  Many believe this was due to the defence basing their case on the question of the wars legality.  Gun agrees, and also suggests there was a good chance a jury might acquit her, which she believes would have possibly required the Government to reform the Official Secrets Act, adding a public interest clause in to it.

The political fallout from Guns leak was extensive, ramping up the pressure on the Government to release the Attorney Generals full legal advice and triggering further UN spying allegations from then Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short.  Most importantly,  Gun, hopes her leak contributed to the collapse of the all important second UN resolution, which would have given the invasion considerably more legitimacy.  

Former US military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, now a close personal friend of Gun’s, believes that Gun’s revelations were “more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers”, which he leaked to the US press in 1971.  It was the first leak that was pre-emptive.  Most leaks are after the event, Gun explains about the timing of her actions.

Like other prominent figures who opposed the Government during this period such as George Galloway, David Kelly and Craig Murray, Gun paid a heavy price for her moral stand.  I lost my job, I lost a good career, I lost a circle of friends and stability, she says, revealing that friends from GCHQ are now scared of speaking to her on the phone, fearing the intelligence services are listening in.  At the same time, she believes she gained a lot of other good friends and met some amazing people.  Considered and composed, she adds, I suppose I have peace of mind.  I dont feel guilty.

Six years after the world-influencing events of 2003, Gun rolls her eyes when I mention Tony Blairs current position as Middle East Peace Envoy.  Ive become very very disillusioned and cynical about politicians in general, she notes.  I dont think there is anyone who could legitimately be called a statesman these days. There is no one I would say I trust.  I see behind the spin now and all the doublespeak that goes on.  

How does she feel about GCHQ after all that happened to her?  What advice would she give to a friend who wanted to apply to work there?  Gun has clearly thought long and hard about this question, and her answer is thoughtful and measured.  You become a linguist because you are interested in other cultures and you have spent time in other countries and you dont tend to think in terms of black and white, she says.  In contrast she points out that at GCHQ  the whole atmosphere is ‘us’ versus ‘them.  The mentality is not the inter-cultural everyone getting on with each other, its all about targeting other people.  Its not easy if you have spent your formative years falling in love with a culture and then you have to turn round and say well sorry I think all of you lot are dodgy.

Although a book about her case has recently been published in the US, Gun is more than happy to be out of the spotlight.  I dont want this weird double life.  I know people like David Shayler have gone off the wall a bit. They sort of become defined by what they did, she says.  I just want a normal family life.  

While Gun certainly deserves the quiet life she seeks, hopefully her extraordinary, very human story will inspire others to take similar, courageous action in the future.

The Spy Who Tried to Stop War.  Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell is published by PoliPointPress.

Meeting the Iraqi resistance: interview with Steve Connors

Meeting the Iraqi resistance: interview with Steve Connors
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
February 2009

With several academic studies now published on the subject and public apologies from the two most influential US newspapers, it is now widely understood that in the run up to the invasion of Iraq the mainstream media completely failed to hold government to account on both sides of the Atlantic. As Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post news website accurately pointed out, the “watchdogs acted more like lapdogs”.

Less talked about is the mainstream media‘s subsequent failure to accurately report on the continuing occupation of Iraq, in particular the large, violent resistance that sprang up after the initial US/UK assault in March 2003.

Sheffield-born photojournalist and filmmaker Steve Connors believes most western journalists working alongside him in Iraq just after the fall of Baghdad “weren‘t all that interested in going out and doing this story” because they had “swallowed the party line – we are the good guys, they are the bad guys. The people who are resisting us are dead-enders, it was foreign fighters.” Connors, 50, explains the right to resist is enshrined in the UN Charter, but “when we go and invade somebody‘s country all of a sudden their right to resist is not legitimate in our eyes.”

Working closely with fellow journalist Molly Bingham, Connors soon came to understand it was “ordinary Iraqi people” who were resisting the occupation. Sensing an important story, they started hanging out in the teashops of Adhamiya, a northern suburb of Baghdad, spending ten months speaking to 45 Iraqis involved in the growing resistance movement.

Eleven of these interviews make up Connors and Bingham‘s superb 2007 documentary Meeting Resistance, a much-needed antidote to the crude propaganda that has been disseminated about those resisting the occupation. In the middle of conducting a statistical study of the resistance, a Professor of Political Science at Baghdad University sums up the film‘s main findings: “the vast majority of resistance is a nationalist, popular resistance by Iraqis who have no relationship to the former regime.”

Talking to me at a screening of the film at the British Museum in London, Connors suggests the inconvenient truths they uncovered in Adhamiya are the main reason why they‘ve been unable to get their work out to a wider audience. Both the BBC and Channel Four declined to show the documentary, with the latter refusing to “believe these people were who they said they were.” Despite this setback, Connors is upbeat as joiningthedocs.tv are releasing Meeting Resistance on DVD next month, and there will hopefully be a limited theatrical release in the near future too.

With the interviews occurring more than four years ago, is Meeting Resistance still relevant to the situation in Iraq today? “There were more attacks in 2008 than there were when we finished making the film”, Connors replies. “It peaked and then it went down again.” He also quotes Department of Defence figures off the top of his head: “from May 2003 to May 2008, 73 per cent of attacks that were carried out in Iraq were directed at US forces. 12 per cent against civilians. 15 per cent against Iraqi security forces. So the main violent energy is being directed at the occupation.”

The spike Connors refers to is the much heralded February 2007 US ‘surge‘, seen by many commentators and politicians as a huge success, including the new US president Barack Obama. In contrast, Connors argues the ‘surge‘ itself did little to reduce the overall levels of violence. “It was a set of political conditions that happened at the same time as the surge”, he explains. “You had the Mahdi Army standing down, there was a sectarian cleansing of districts of Baghdad – there was nobody left to kill.” He also points to the creation of the Awakening Movement, presented as a successful counterinsurgency operation by the US forces, as it supposedly increased security in Anbar province, “What they have done essentially is chosen elements from some tribes and promoted them over other elements, upsetting a system that is hundreds of years old”, he says.  “I liken it to handing over Scotland Yard to the Kray twins. For a short-term tactical gain there is going to be a huge price to be paid for this. They are creating the conditions for another civil war, this time among the Sunni tribes.” And Connors attributes the reduction in violence to one more glaring factor – “the Americans started to withdraw in that period, so they were not presenting targets.”

Although he has previously reported from Sri Lanka, the violent break up of Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine, Connors is still shocked by the “state of chaos” in Iraq, the dire security situation making it very difficult to accurately estimate the number of Iraqi dead. He believes the Iraq Body Count figure of around 100,000 – calculated from cross-checked reports of violent deaths in English language media – is a gross underestimate, noting that in Iraq “especially in the summer, you can have someone killed and buried within two hours. There is no report of that death. Most people don‘t go to the morgue.” And although the 2006 Lancet study that estimated 655,000 Iraqis deaths has been criticised by both the US and UK governments, Connors highlights that the epidemiological studies upon which the figures are based “have been accepted in virtually every other conflict throughout the world”.

“The reason we find it so difficult to accept, is because we are the bad guys this time.  We have caused all this pain and suffering”, he says.

Rather than arguing over the exact number deaths, Connors is quick to point out the central question “is the magnitude of the crime is the crime itself – and everything accrues from that. If you go back to the Nuremberg Principles, to commit aggressive war is the supreme crime. And what we did in Iraq is we committed aggressive war.”  Summing up, he laments, “Britain is as guilty as the United States. We are on the wrong side of history.”

www.meetingresistance.com

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker
by Ian Sinclair

Open Democracy
19 August 2016

According to news reports, the fighting in Syria, especially in and around the city of Aleppo, has escalated in recent weeks. Can you summarise the scale and breadth of the humanitarian crisis in Syria today?

The crisis in Syria is well into the sixth year now. Civilians are increasingly the victim of bombings, attacks, and displacement by all warring parties which are primarily and directly responsible for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. Powerful countries such as Russia, the US, France and the UK are also fuelling the conflict to varying degrees whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure, political and military support to their allies, or direct military action. The recent fighting around Aleppo is the latest example of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children caught in the cross-fire, threatened by death from land and air, and facing severe shortages in food and medicine that could lead to even more deaths. Overall in Syria, humanitarian needs are increasing every day, while access to civilians, especially in besieged areas, has not improved beyond one-off deliveries here and there, tied to ongoing political negotiations.
 
Speaking to Sky News in March 2016 about the Syrian war, you
said “we can’t only lay the blame at the feet of the Russians”, noting that Britain – and other nations – have also “fuelled the fire” of the conflict. Can you explain how Britain has done this?

To start, it must be noted that the parties to the conflict – the Government of Syria, armed opposition groups and UN designated terrorist organizations – bear the primary responsibility for the suffering in Syria. Powerful countries such as Russia and the US are also fuelling the conflict, including via direct military action.  To a lesser degree, the UK and France are also fuelling the conflict whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure or their more limited military actions.

Some governments, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, have become belligerents in the civil war. For example, while Russia’s role in talks on Syria is key and it must play an important role in the resolution of the crisis, the reality on the ground is that the increased Russian military involvement and intervention since September 2015 marks a clear escalation of conflict, with devastating results for civilians. Russia and the US, countries with power and the main instigators of the recent provisional ceasefire, spend a combined $8 billion dollars on the war within Syria in 2015, dwarfing the $1.5 billion the US contributes in aid, with Russia contributing just $9 million towards humanitarian assistance.

Some countries like the UK have been top donors to aid efforts that are reaching Syrian refugees, and when and where possible civilians inside Syria. Their support to vulnerable populations that rely on humanitarian aid outstrips most other countries, and they have played a significant role in mobilising more money from other nations, but they also need to deploy more efforts towards an end to the conflict which is leading to more vulnerability and needs every day.

The UK and other members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected and peace and security maintained. Resolutions of the Security Council have been consistently flouted and ignored by their allies on the ground. Britain is also part of the US led coalition against ISIS that has ongoing military operations in Syria. This has done little, if anything, to deal with either civilian suffering or the root causes of the conflict.
 
Britain’s part responsibility for the ongoing conflict in Syria will be news to most people. From your vantage point as the head of Oxfam’s Syria response team, why do you think there is such a large disconnect between Britain’s Syrian policy and the public’s understanding of it?

There’s been a lot of focus in the UK on the issue of refugees, especially those who have taken the risky journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. But this issue is only the result of a bloody conflict that has driven nearly a quarter of the Syrian population out of their country. As long as powerful countries including the UK do not address both the protection of civilians and the root causes of the conflict and put an end to the bloodshed by pushing for a political solution and stopping any active role in the conflict, Syrians will keep on trying to reach safety.
 
What changes to Britain’s policy on Syria would Oxfam like to see?

  • The UK Government should use its power on the UNSC and other diplomatic routes to influence parties on ground both to seek a peace process, and to respect human rights and humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities
  • The UK Government must ensure UK arms and ammunition aren’t transferred to the warring parties
  • It’s deeply disappointing that the UK Government is not on track to meet even its modest commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020. The government must not only deliver on its existing commitments to resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees but also welcome to the UK more people fleeing conflict, including making it easier for families, split apart by violence, to reunite

If individual citizens are concerned about the Syrian war and want to act in some way to help, what do you propose they do?

They need to write to their elected representatives and push them to lobby the government for real political pressure on the Syria: on resettlement of refugees, the aid response, for protection of civilians and a more proactive diplomatic role on the resolution of the crisis.

People can also donate to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal. Oxfam has reached over 1.5 million people in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as communities inside Syria with desperately needed food, water and shelter.

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
4 July 2016

With the Iraq Inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, set to finally report on Wednesday, it is important to remember the legal questions being considered by the Blair Government as they geared up for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

With the Prime Minister under intense pressure from a growing anti-war movement and rebellious Labour Party MPs, in July 2002 the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told Tony Blair there were only “three possible legal bases” for attacking Iraq. These were “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation”. The first and second justifications were out of the question, Goldsmith noted.

Things were equally fraught at the Foreign Office, with Sir Michael Wood, the department’s chief legal adviser, warning Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that invading without a second resolution would “amount to the crime of aggression”.

Despite applying huge amounts of pressure on members of the security council, the UK and US failed to obtain a security council resolution. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the war to be in contravention of the UN charter, as did figures ranging from senior judge Lord Bingham to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and prominent American neoconservative Richard Perle. “It is generally agreed, by… most international lawyers that the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was illegal, contravening the prohibition on the use of force in the UN Charter”, notes Bill Bowring, Professor of Law at Birkbeck, University of London.

“The war is responsible for millions dead and displaced, the country is still in flames and there have been no sanctions whatever against those who prosecuted it”, Lindsey German, the Convenor of Stop the War Coalition, tells me. “We are not lawyers but many would like to see Blair in The Hague, and this is an extremely popular demand within the anti-war movement”.

It’s a popular demand among the wider public too – a ComRes/Independent poll in 2010 found “37 per cent of people believe that Mr Blair should be put on trial for going to war with Iraq”. However, while the expert consensus and public’s anger are well known, the legal technicalities surrounding if, and how, Blair and his colleagues could be brought to trial are rarely explored.

For example, the International Criminal Court [ICC] at The Hague is the only body that has jurisdiction to prosecute the “crime of aggression”. However, it turns out the ICC only agreed on an official working definition of the term in 2010. And, more importantly, they also agreed that the validity of a case would be determined by the UN Security Council and that it would not consider cases retrospectively.

Professor Bowring and Professor Gerry Simpson, Chair in Public International Law at the London School of Economics agree, with the latter noting “It is virtually impossible for this ‘crime’ [the crime of aggression] to be prosecuted by an international court”. Therefore, the chances of Blair standing trial are “extremely slim”, Professor Simpson explains.

Similarly, in 2006 the House of Lords held that the crime of aggression was not part of domestic law and would need an Act of Parliament to be incorporated. Therefore, Blair “cannot be prosecuted in the UK’s domestic courts for aggression”, noted Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford, on European Journal of International Law’s blog in 2009.

What all this means, as journalist Richard Hall explained in 2010, is though “There was no legal case for launching the war” there is also “no legal basis to prosecute for it”.

All this will be deeply frustrating and disappointing for the millions of people who marched against the war and want the Blair Government held to account. But all is not lost for them. There are, it seems, a few other viable options.

So, while the chances of prosecuting the Blair Government for its illegal and aggressive invasion are currently close to zero, attempts are in progress to bring the UK Government to account for war crimes committed by British forces during the occupation itself. Based on a dossier compiled by Public Interest Lawyers and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, “two years ago, the new [ICC] Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, commenced a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed by members of the government in the following period of occupation”, Professor Bowring explains. The BBC reported the dossier contained evidence of what they said was more than 400 cases of mistreatment or unlawful killings carried out by UK forces. “Blair could have been, and perhaps may be, prosecuted for war crimes at the ICC in The Hague”, Professor Bowring believes.

Furthermore, though it is still unlikely, Professor Simpson notes “a foreign court is a little more likely” to prosecute the crime of aggression, though Blair “would have to travel to somewhere with a crime of aggression on the statute books”. Philippe Sands QC, Professor of Law at University College London, concurs, telling the Daily Mirror in 2010 “When Tony Blair travels he now gets legal advice on where he can go and the pattern of extradition agreements.” There are, according to Sands, approximately 50 countries which have enshrined the crime of aggression into their law and would therefore be unsafe for Blair to visit. “The possibility of a national prosecutor going after Blair in some foreign jurisdiction is reasonably high”, he added.

With legal prosecution and sanction very unlikely in the UK itself, it looks like it will continue to fall to the court of public opinion to pass judgement and punishment on Blair and his close conspirators. One thing is certain – Blair’s reputation is shot to pieces, with the former Prime Minister unable to do book signings without protests, or appear in public without people trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest. The Iraq War’s toxicity continues to inform British politics, with potential challengers to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hindered by their support for the war.

“The publication of the Chilcot Report will be very important”, notes Professor Bowring about the legal questions surrounding the Iraq War. The content of the report will, of course, be central to the debate, but arguably the deciding factor on how this plays out will be the response from Corbyn’s Labour Party, the media and the public. Stop the War Coalition are holding a protest at the report’s launch in London on 6 July and then a rally on 7 July. “We will do everything we can to make clear what the issues of legality, lying and the creation of future chaos really mean”, German says. “We don’t know whether Chilcot will help pin the blame on the guilty, but we do know this remains an issue of immense importance to millions of people in Britain.”

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq
by Ian Sinclair

8 July 2016

The United Nations con trick

This morning BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interviewed Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007, about his central role in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Asked by presenter John Humphrys about the secret 28 July 2002 memo that Blair sent to US President George Bush in which Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever”, Blair replied:

“The whole purpose of it [the memo] was to ensure that the Americans went down the United Nations route to dealing with this, which we then did. And we had a [UN] Resolution in November 2002, which had the terms of that resolution been satisfied then there wouldn’t have been a war.”

Blair is repeating the narrative – largely accepted by our media – that he persuaded a reluctant Bush Administration to work through the United Nations, in an attempt to solve the crisis peacefully. However, though Humphrys ignores it, Blair discusses exactly this issue in a later part on the 28 July 2008 memo. Under the heading ‘The UN’ Blair writes:

“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline… There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with [UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan. It would be: take it or leave it. I know there is reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. It he did say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.”

The language – “encapsulate our casus belli”, “no negotiation”, “we would just refuse to deal” – seems very far from someone sincerely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and using military action as a last resort.

Blair’s position on the role of the UN here mirrors other secret memos which have been subsequently released. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to the United States wrote to Tony’ Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning about his recent meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option”, noted Meyer. “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [security council resolutions]”.  How would this be done? A Cabinet paper from July 2002 explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community”.

The goal then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN as a tool for triggering war, not, as Blair continues to assert, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

UN Resolution 1441: 2016 Tony Blair versus 2002 Tony Blair

At his press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair repeated his claim that Iraqi non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 authorised the US and UK to take military action against Iraq:

“I persuaded a reluctant American administration to take the issue back to the UN. This resulted in the November 2002 UN Resolution 1441 giving Saddam ‘a final opportunity’ to come into ‘full and immediate compliance with UN Resolutions’ and to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. Any non-compliance was defined as a material breach…. as at the 18th of March, there was gridlock at the UN. In resolution 1441 it had been agreed to give Saddam one final opportunity to comply. It was accepted he had not done so. In that case, according to 1441, action should have followed”.

What Blair doesn’t say is Resolution 1441 was only passed by Russia, China and France on the understanding a second resolution would be required to authorise military action. Indeed,

on the day Resolution 1441 was passed by the UN Security Council Tony Blair himself said “To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the Resolution makes it clear that is not the case.”

This was confirmed by the UK Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who explained at the time:

“We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’ – the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.”

The Al Qaeda link: nothing to do with me guv

During the Q&A session of his press conference on Chilcot, Nick Watt from BBC Newsnight asked Blair the following question:

“You say ‘For us to understand what happened, we need to understand how the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.’ But you were told then, and we know now, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.”

To which Blair replied:

“On the links between AQ and Saddam – it was never our case. There were elements of the American Administration that argued that there was a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. That was never my case.”

Contrast this clear disavowal with the content of the 28 July 2002 memo Blair wrote to Bush. Under the heading ‘The Evidence’ Blair tells Bush “I have been told the US thinks this unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaeda link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”

So, to confirm, though Blair claims that he did not make a link between Al Qaeda and Hussein, the memo clearly shows Blair suggesting to Bush that “an Al Qaeda link” should be made with Saddam Hussein because “it will be hugely persuasive over here” – that is it will help persuade the population of the UK, and perhaps mainland Europe, for the need for war.