Trigger happy pilots must pay

I wrote last week about how the United Nations had finally shown itself to be a toothless talking shop for diplomatic has-beens. I haven’t changed my view in the slightest, but this week, the UN has suddenly found a means by which it could redeem itself.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  July 30, 2006

|~||~||~|The UN has the power to launch war crimes proceedings after this conflict. I wrote last week about how the United Nations had finally shown itself to be a toothless talking shop for diplomatic has-beens. I haven’t changed my view in the slightest, but this week, the UN has suddenly found a means by which it could redeem itself. No, not by sending another envoy to the Middle East. Nobody cares about UN envoys. Not by offering to supply another totally ineffective, almost laughable peacekeeping force. And not even by passing another resolution: let’s face it, nobody outside the UN gives two hoots about UN resolutions anymore. But secretary general Kofi Annan, as he stumbles into the final phase of his bumbling career at the helm of the UN, could do one thing: launch a war crimes investigation, against both Israelis and even some Hezbollah generals. (and I know I won’t make any new friends for suggesting the latter). First the key legal jargon: prosecutions for war crimes can be brought against individuals or even nations proved to have deliberately violated the Geneva Conventions (better known as the rules of war). Article 51 of the First Protocol prohibits indiscriminate attacks in customary international law. Articles 51 and 57 deal with “proportionality” and Article 3 refers to “hostage taking.” Well, it would appear a lot of rules have been broken here. Let’s start with Israel: The bombing of civilian and residential areas is a clear breach. What about the mini-bus carrying 16 Lebanese children that was blown up? How many laws have been breached there? Phosphorous bombs have also been used on Lebanon, according to the country’s president Emile Lahoud. If so, this too is a direct contravention of the “rules of war.” The firing of rockets by Hezbollah into Israeli towns arguably breaches Articles 51 and 57 (depending on the proven accuracy of the rockets). According to legal experts I have spoken to, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers is not actually considered illegal under the Geneva Convention – assuming this is now a war taking place. However, attempting to use them for prisoner swaps does make this a “hostage taking” issue, which is illegal. So anyway, it doesn’t take a legal eagle to work out that there are potentially a lot of people who should be heading for the war crimes court in The Hague: but will they ever be marched down there? Is there any prospect of the guilty parties spending 30 years behind bars? Curiously, neither Lebanon or Israel have signed up to the Hague’s international criminal court. But this doesn’t protect them. The UN does have the power to directly refer cases to the court. One signature from Kofi Annan, and everyone from the Israeli pilot who fired that missile at the children’s minibus to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have a very, very serious problem. So will some Hezbollah individuals. Could this actually happen? Last week, Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, and Louise Arbour, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, both made strong statements, urging both sides in the conflict to be aware of the Geneva Convention. They toured Beirut and Northern Israel, saw the damage for themselves, and came to the conclusion that many laws were being totally ignored. Hardly anyone paid any attention. Much as I hate to admit it, a few words from Kofi Annan would have more gravitas. If he had the courage to come out in public, and warn both sides of the consequences they face for breaching the Genena Convention, it just might make a difference. The next trigger happy Israeli pilot may just think twice before unleashing his weapons. And innocent lives would be saved. Last Tuesday, Annan publicly accused Israel of deliberately bombing a UN outpost, killing four people. But he could have done more. As I said, for the UN to actually refer specific cases to the Hague, it would take just one signature from Kofi Annan. He has the power to enact the most fundamental laws the United Nations ever put together. But will he ever do it? Or will Annan and the United Nations once again succumb to US pressure and do nothing? What do you think?||**||

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