International Law

Inder Comar Speaks to The United Nations Council on Human Rights

The Iraq War is by no means over, and during the fifteen years since its launch, the initial invasion and its aftermath have taken thousands of civilian and military lives, left a trail of ongoing civil and political chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and left power vacuums and spheres of disputed influence across the middle east. On the 15-year anniversary of the invasion, our founder Inder Comar spoke to assembled audience at a March 15th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Inder’s words began with a discussion of the 2003 events surrounding the invasion and placed these events in a context, an era of ongoing encroachments on international law that may signal an existential threat to modern democracy. 

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Accountability and the Rule of Law

The rule of law exists in perpetual conflict with the rule of might, and in functional democratic societies, the rule of law defines criminal behavior and holds perpetrators accountable. The concept of international criminal law is not new, but the possibility of borderless accountability for the most grievous crimes against humanity—including genocide, torture, and human trafficking—took a significant step forward during the trials of Nuremberg. It was at this point that the global community named and began to define the crime of “aggression”, an illegal, unjustified act of war or invasion. 

The jus cogens prohibition against aggression does not permit any derogation and must be upheld by all member nations of the global community. The UN Charter prohibits violence against one state by another under all circumstances with only two exceptions: Acts of self-defense and acts granted explicit approval by the UN Security Council.

Since the Iraq war involved neither of these exemptions, the initial invasion and lack of accountability for the proceeding actions and events (including human rights violations and attacks against non-combatant civilians) represent disregard for the UN Charter and violations of international law.

To date, no high-ranking US government employee involved in this act of aggression has been prosecuted for war crimes, a circumstance that undermines the strength of the United Nations and grants a foothold to an increasing global threat of despotism and tyranny.

A functioning world order is made possible by a fundamental principle: no person stands above the law. If this principle is undermined or threatened, the door opens to a cascade of abuses that have historically altered the fates of otherwise thriving nations and peoples. These abuses include pernicious propaganda, a concentration of economic power in the hands of the few, and violations of civil and human rights, often in the name of security.

At our current moment in history, due to the abuses above and a growing lack of accountability for those in positions of power, we appear to be entering—or rather returning—to an age defined by humanitarian crises. Not since the days of ancient Rome have so many been controlled by the actions and self-interest of so few. 

But as Inder makes clear in his statement to the United Nations, one solution to this growing crisis may lie in creating accountability for the Iraq War.

Holding high ranking American officials responsible for their participation in an illegal invasion-- an act of aggression built on propaganda, false intelligence, and disregard for international law and order-- can potentially accomplish three important goals that can slow our current global trajectory toward a dark and chaotic future. This accountability may:

Restore international order based on the rule of law

Reset a bias in international law against impoverished nations

Provide justice to the victims of the Iraq War.

Those who abuse the United Nations to further a harmful and self-serving agenda must face appropriate censure and consequences in order to preserve a global future founded on the rule of law and safe from the allure of empire and authoritarianism.

The primary points of Inder’s speech align with the goals of Just Atonement: We seek to protect global justice and respect for international law. The Iraq War and its aftermath present us with a concrete opportunity to take action on our core principles. Read the text of the speech by clicking the link above and please consider joining our mission.

A Golden Age for Humanity: Is it Possible?

In addition to defending those who are vulnerable to the environmentally destructive actions of big business and government, our team works to advance a system of justice that transcends national borders. For example, leaders who participate in or condone acts of genocide, exploitation, or human trafficking are rarely held accountable by their own governments. But a strong and reliable system of international justice can prevent such individuals from justifying these actions or refusing to face those who have been harmed.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), centered in The Hague, has come into existence within our lifetimes—a major advancement in the course of human history. And while the institution has yet to gain the strength that’s more accessible to criminal courts established by individual nations, we believe that this goal is on the horizon. Here at Just Atonement, we live in two worlds: First the present, in which a complete system of international criminal justice has yet to be shored up to put to the ultimate test. And second, the future, in which such a system is respected and feared by would-be tyrants and opportunists.

We also believe that an established system of international justice forms just one pillar of a golden age that may be within reach for humanity—And maybe, like the ICC, this golden age might be attainable within our own lifetimes.

Despite the threats that currently face our shared environment and despite populations around the globe that struggle with hunger and lawlessness, 2017 can be considered an excellent year for advancements against poverty and human suffering. Check out this useful collection of data points.

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Globally, more people than ever before are living above the extreme poverty line of two dollars a day, more people have access to electricity, and more have access to clean water then in years past. Vaccinations and simple life-saving treatments for common ailments are more available than ever before to isolated communities. And while the environment is certainly in peril, access to information and education are improving, and hopefully, the more we know about how to protect the planet from ourselves, the sooner we’ll transition to renewable energy and find ways to limit waste and environmental exploitation.

Here at Just Atonement, we believe that a golden age lies within our reach. Our goal: a world in which health, hygiene, literacy, access to justice, and freedom from fear are available to all people in every part of the world. We imagine living in balance with a planet that can safely and sustainably provide for all of us, and when we add up the numbers, we recognize that this is not a mathematical impossibility. If you have the skills or training to help us move forward toward this goal, we’d like to hear from you! Contact our office and find out how you can contribute to our efforts.  

Our Recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council Regarding the Case of Saleh v. Bush

In February of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a decision in the case of Saleh v. Bush, holding that high-ranking leaders from the Bush Administration--including George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others--were protected from allegations that they had committed the crime of aggression and violated international treaties by invading Iraq in 2003. This case holds important implications for Just Atonement and its mission, and it also holds implications for the future of human rights legislation and the strength and legitimacy of international law.

Our short paper, available here, provides a background on the details of the case, followed by a list of official recommendations for the United Nations Human Rights Council. We submitted the paper earlier this year and these recommendations were included as an agenda item at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, held in late September 2017.

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How did the Court Rule in Saleh v. Bush?

Despite evidence that the Bush Administration presented false evidence in order to generate support for the invasion of Iraq, and despite an apparent intent to overthrow the government of Iraq dating back to 1997, the Ninth Circuit found George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz -- the named defendants -- immune from civil liability in the U.S., due to a federal law called Westfall Act.

The Westfall Act protects former government officials from civil lawsuits if their actions can be considered “official”, or taking place within the legitimate scope of their authority. The plaintiff, Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother who had fled Iraq as a refugee, could not proceed with her claims since she could not identify any personal gain, financial or otherwise, linking the members of the administration to their actions while in office, no matter how heinous those actions may have been.

What are the Human Rights Implications of Saleh v. Bush?

1.       Unfortunately, the ruling shows a U.S. court giving precedence to domestic law over international law, part of an ongoing trend.

2.       The ruling reveals another trend as well: the movement of U.S. courts to limit opportunities for redress available to victims of U.S. foreign policy. Federal courts appear to be closing their doors to victims of international crimes conducted by U.S. officials.

3.       This ruling may weaken the strength of the Nuremberg Judgement and release the United States from international norms and laws regarding acts of aggression.

In light of these implications, we’ve submitted a list of specific recommendations to the Human Rights Council.  Feel free to review the list here.