Putting Tony Blair (and others) on trial for war crimes


December 18, 2008 8:03 | by Chris Coverdale, Annie Machon, and Wayne Hall

French president Sarkozy's choice of Tony Blair to co-host with him in Paris in early January, after the expiry of France's term in the EU presidency, a high-profile conference entitled "New World: Values, Development and Regulation" suggests that France has not given up on two ambitions that should be perceived as threatening: the ambition to shape Europe "in its own image" and the ambition to install Tony Blair in the position of first full-time president of the reformed European Council, a post created by the Treaty of Lisbon.

The organizers of the planned Paris conference have succeeded in securing the participation in it of prestigious names such as Joseph Stiglitz, names formerly associated with opposition to neo-liberal economics and politics.

This means that a renewed respectability is going to be bestowed on Sarkozy's plans for Blair, which had received a setback last May when Angela Merkel refused to support them and Sarkozy was obliged to issue a retraction, acknowledging that "Blair's involvement in the Iraq war had damaged his standing among EU fellow members."

Sarkozy's promotion of Tony Blair is merely one aspect of the strategy under implementation. Another involves ignoring the result of the Irish referendum in which the citizens of that EU member country rejected the neo-liberal Treaty of Lisbon. On Thursday 11th December, during the EU summit, Irish Prime Minister Cowen is programmed to promise a second referendum, so that the Irish can get the answer right this time!

Civil society must regain the political initiative on these questions. The electoral campaign for the 2009 European elections is an opportunity to mount a counter-campaign to Sarkozy's attempt to construct a European Union in the image of the Bush administration that Americans have now voted out of office.

Let us recall the fact that the International Criminal Court in the Hague has been asked to probe war crimes allegations against Tony Blair. There is a standing demand in Britain that Blair be put on trial in the Hague as a war criminal, and it is time for it to become Europe-wide. Social Europe is a position to spearhead a campaign centred on this demand.

The European Parliament

The European Parliament is a very suitable place for beginning such a campaign. If MEPs are informed of the laws of war and how they have been broken by Blair and other leaders of Coalition states, they can ask the EU to act, compelling member states to uphold international treaties and the laws of war. In this manner the resources of the EU and European Parliament can be used to force the issue into court. If some states, such as Britain or Holland refuse to prosecute their national leaders in their domestic courts, the European Parliament and the EU can be asked to initiate state party requests to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

A good reason for starting with the European Parliament is that this provides one of the best chances for bringing outside pressure on law enforcement authorities to enforce the law. The likelihood of bringing Tony Blair and other UK war criminals to justice will be greatly enhanced if Europe forces Britain's hand. UK peace activists have made more than 250 unsuccessful attempts in six years to report war crimes to police throughout Britain, but have failed because of deep-seated corruption in law enforcement authorities. Britain's supposedly independent police constabularies have repeatedly refused to investigate war crimes or arrest known offenders and they have even impeded attempts to conduct citizen's arrests. Crown prosecutors refuse to charge or prosecute war criminals when the evidence is overwhelming and corrupt judges have failed to issue arrest warrants, injunctions or mandatory orders.

Another reason for approaching the European Parliament is that Britain's Parliament is no longer the sovereign body in Britain and is seemingly powerless to hold the Prime Minister and the British Government to account for their violations of treaties, breaches of international law and abuses of human rights. Although the genocide of the Iraqi people is the worst atrocity in British history, the monarch and the vast majority of our representatives in Parliament act as if nothing untoward is happening and happily order the armed forces to continue the massacres of innocent people not one of whom has harmed Britain or British interests in any way. The British people can no longer trust their Parliament or Government.

As Britain can no longer trust its own leaders to uphold or enforce war law, the European Parliament and the UN General Assembly must be persuaded to induce the British Government to turn away from its use of armed force as a political instrument and return to the non-violent path of peace, justice and the rule of law.

What alternative routes are available?

There are several ways in which Tony Blair and others can be got into court to answer for their war crimes. The world's most comprehensive war law is the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This international treaty, which came into effect in July 2002, set up the world's first permanent criminal tribunal in The Hague and introduced the universal criminal offences of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Currently 108 States have ratified the legislation and although the United States of America has refused Britain did so when it enacted the International Criminal Court Act in 2001. By ratifying this Statute, Britain, for the first time in 1600 years, agreed to place all its citizens under the jurisdiction of an external authority, the International Criminal Court.

Under the terms of the Rome Statute the law enforcement authorities of the State that has committed the war crimes are responsible for the initiation of criminal proceedings against their nationals or residents. Only if a State is unwilling or unable to bring proceedings can the responsibility be taken over by the ICC. So it is Britain's law enforcement authorities' responsibility to prosecute Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other British war criminals at Britain's premier criminal court, the Old Bailey. This course of action would be the best bet because the range of crimes and criminal offences with which offenders can be prosecuted in England or Scotland is far more extensive than could be prosecuted in The Hague. If Tony Blair is tried in England he could be charged with all of the following criminal offences:-

o A crime against peace [waging aggressive war]

o Complicity in a crime against peace

o Genocide*

o Conduct ancillary to genocide*

o Crimes against humanity*

o Conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity*

o War Crimes [there are 33 separate war crimes listed in the legislation]*

o Conduct ancillary to war crimes*

o Murder

o Conspiracy to murder

o Incitement to murder

o Conspiracy to commit a crime against peace

o Conspiracy to commit genocide

o Conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity

o Conspiracy to commit war crimes

o Conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm

[* The ICC in the Hague can only prosecute these 6 categories of criminal offence.]

Scotland has its own legal system which is different from that which applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If it proves impossible to prosecute Blair in England it would still be feasible to prosecute him and others such as Gordon Brown [who represents a Scottish constituency] in Scotland under the Scottish version of the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court [Scotland] Act 2001.

If both of these routes prove impossible a third option is to prosecute Britain's leaders at the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague. Although the ICC cannot prosecute American war criminals such as Bush and Cheney, it can initiate proceedings against leaders such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or John Howard [Australia] for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes if it receives a formal request to investigate ICC crimes and initiate criminal proceedings against offenders from any one of the 108 nation states that are currently signatories to the Rome Statute. This provides the opportunity for states such as Venezuela, Brazil or Argentina to initiate a request to the ICC to investigate crimes and initiate criminal proceedings against British citizens in relation to the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ICC can also initiate proceedings against war criminals if it can show that the signatory state responsible for prosecutions is unwilling or unable to prosecute its own nationals for ICC crimes. Although UK peace activists have provided more than enough evidence of corruption in our law enforcement authorities to bring a case to the ICC, we need high level external support from European Governments to force the ICC's hand.

A fifth prosecution option arises in all those nations whose legislation allows them universal jurisdiction to arrest charge and prosecute war criminals. As was shown by the Pinochet case it would be a relatively simple matter for a judge in Germany or Spain to issue a European arrest warrant for the arrest, detention and extradition of Blair, Brown or any of Britain's numerous war criminals so that they could be tried under German or Spanish war law.

A sixth option is for the UN General Assembly to set up an International Tribunal for Iraq much in the same manner that NATO set up the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia to prosecute Serbian war criminals.

In any case, the nation states and international institutions must be identified that are committed to the causes of international peace and justice and they must be encouraged to work assiduously to hold British, American and Coalition war criminals to account in court for their crimes. Only when leaders of the stature of Blair and Brown or Bush and Cheney are brought to justice as convicted war criminals will the world be in a position to end unlawful war and concentrate all its resources on peace, development and the rule of law.

Chris Coverdale is an activist with Action Against War. Annie Machon is a writer and activist. Wayne Hall is a member of ATTAC-Hellas. Support for this initiative has also been expressed by Philippe Sands QC

See also