FERGUS FINLAY: Russia and Israel must answer for their crimes against humanity

AS far as I can tell, any government which is a party to the Rome Statute can refer a crime to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Rome Statute is the piece of international law that set up the Court.

AS far as I can tell, any government which is a party to the Rome Statute can refer a crime to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Rome Statute is the piece of international law that set up the Court.

In its preamble, the statute says that the Court is being established because the people of the world are “mindful that during this century millions of children, women and men have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity” and also because the people of the world recognise “that such grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world”.

The evidence of all our eyes would suggest that in the last few days, two crimes against humanity have been committed. Men, women and children have been brutally murdered in acts of horrific aggression and violence. In one case, the entire group of people massacred was civilian, and innocent of any crime. In the other, while some combatants may have been involved, the indiscriminate nature of the attack meant that children and their mothers were murdered in huge numbers.

Both of these cases demand referral to, and investigation by, the Court. The leaders and the governments of Russia and Israel both have cases to answer. Who is going to take the necessary action to force them to defend atrocity?

Neither Russia nor Israel is a full party to the treaty that established the ICC. They may even be able to ignore the Court. But in the absence of a charge, the rest of the world will agonise over what to do. Europe will look to the US (itself not a party to the ICC). The US will blame Europe for its inaction, based in part on the close relations and trading links between countries in Europe and the two aggressor countries.

But surely it must be possible for some countries that profess to take the ICC seriously — and Ireland is one of them — to level a charge of inhumanity, and force the two countries involved to face international anger?

The shooting down of flight MH17 is the most straightforward case of a crime against humanity. Almost 300 men, women and children blown out of the sky for absolutely no reason, and their bodies left to decompose because the pro-Russian separatists involved were more determined to hide their complicity than to play any role in the basic humanitarian actions necessary.

There can be no denying that Russia and its president have been entirely instrumental in fomenting and supporting the separatist tensions that were behind this attack, and supplied the hardware and technology that made it possible. They then, it seems, ensured that the UN Security Council couldn’t even use the words “shooting down” in its futile call for an investigation. Russian pressure insisted that the plane be described as having been “downed”.

We know from our own history that some people find it possible to defend almost any atrocity carried out in the name of a visceral nationalist impulse. When president Putin attacks the “politics of condemnation” his weasel words have a particular resonance in Ireland.

No-one wants to see American or European troops on the ground in the Ukraine. No-one knows where that would end. But economic and financial sanctions are not enough of a response to what is going on in the Ukraine. If Russia isn’t stopped, that country will be torn apart, and ultimately re-absorbed into the Russian empire. And where next? Georgia? The Baltic states?

The passengers of flight MH17 were not just the victims of a mindless atrocity, they were pawns in a bigger war of personal and national aggrandisement. It must be confronted, using all the weapons of international diplomacy, and a referral to the International Criminal Court must be the next step.

There can surely be little doubt that Israel must answer equally serious charges. All my life I have had an instinctive, emotional support for Israel and its right to live in peace. No people have suffered more in history, nor have had more crimes against humanity perpetrated on them, than the Jewish people. When you read the statutes that set up the International Criminal Court, the language could almost be drawn from what happened to the Jewish people. Words like extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer pepper the language of the statute — words that characterise so much of Jewish history and the Jewish experience.

And then you read in the weekend’s newspapers that Israeli soldiers, in densely populated areas, fired shells that explode in the air and release thousands of pointed metal darts. These darts are about half an inch long, and they disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide. They will destroy anything in their path — especially if they hit children, as they have.

How is it possible to argue that the use of weapons like that represents anything other than an indiscriminate attack? How is it possible to argue that this is a targeted intervention, aimed at self-defence, when there is such massively overwhelming firepower involved?

Of course it’s clear that Hamas have a case to answer too. It’s entirely possible — and seems most likely from the evidence — that the Hamas leadership is cynical enough to invite attack. Their rockets are being fired from the highly populated areas that the Israelis are attacking, and they must have known that their own children would be most at risk from Israeli reprisals.

NO ONE would question the right of Israel to defend itself — or to seek the help of the world, through the United Nations — to come to its aid when under attack. But Israel doesn’t do that. Instead its reprisals have been beyond brutal. It has used enormous force, force far in excess of anything the Palestinians can muster, to begin to crush a people who have lived in oppression for years.

Gaza is a tiny strip of land. County Cork is about 20 times bigger. Yet it has more than 1.5 million people, the majority of whom are recognised as refugees by the UN. Gaza has almost nothing — no natural resources, an impoverished economy, a government more dedicated to a war it can’t win than to the welfare of its own people.

Apart from one tiny strip of border to the south, it is completely surrounded by the overwhelmingly more powerful Israel, a country armed to the teeth and supported by all the great powers of the west.

To make matters worse, Israel is a democracy. There is therefore even less justification, if that were possible, for the slaughter of women and children that Israel has committed in the last few days. The actions of a great and powerful country against a defenceless population in those circumstances can only be described as criminal. They must be forced by their friends and allies to stop. And the democratic world must insist that one of their own is held to account for those criminal acts.


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