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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Jun 2024  Abhijit Bhattacharyya | War crimes, genocide rise as world ignores ICJ, ICC

Abhijit Bhattacharyya | War crimes, genocide rise as world ignores ICJ, ICC

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College, and the author of China in India.
Published : Jun 19, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 19, 2024, 12:05 am IST

A critical examination of international responses and legal accountability amid ongoing conflicts

 Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Saturday, June 8, 2024. AP/PTI
  Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Saturday, June 8, 2024. AP/PTI

Two major wars are currently raging across the planet -- the first for the past 28 months in mainland Europe between the white Christian nations of Russia and Ukraine, and the second for over eight months between historical enemies Israel, the Jewish state, and Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, widely believed to be supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The question that now arises is: are those engaged in these conflicts wilfully indulging in war crimes, even genocide in certain cases, in complete and utter disregard of international law?

What makes these conflicts unique is that every country disagrees with others on how these wars should end. The big boys of the West are also playing a grossly partisan role, following their own agenda, not bothering about the human tragedy of either Eastern Europe or the Levant. The West seems to be revelling that they aren’t losing their diminishing demography.

The landmark verdicts of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are being scorned, scoffed at and contemptuously ridiculed by a global superpower like the United States. This only shows the arrogance of power. All through the 20th and now the 21st century, the West has prided itself as the ultimate economic, political and military role model which follows the values of “democracy and rule of law” and abides by a “rules-based international order”, which should be emulated by the rest of the world. All that seems to be forgotten now.

Even before the UN’s top judicial arm, the ICJ, had ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military assault on the Gaza city of Rafah” on May 24, US President Joe Biden had given the White House’s verdict on May 20: “What’s happening in Gaza isn’t genocide. We reject that.” However, EU foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell urged Israel to “obey the UN court on Rafah”. The worst, however, came from Lindsay Graham, US Republican Senator from South Carolina, who said “ICJ to go to hell” for ruling against Israel on Rafah, which the judges described as a “disastrous humanitarian situation”.

The ICJ was not the only one to face the ferocity of the very nations that champion the cause of a “rules-based” world order. When the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court sought arrest warrants against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence minister Yoav Gallant for “war crimes and crimes against humanity”, the entire American political system burst into flames.

US Senators and Congressmen of both parties proposed sanctions on the ICC. However, earlier, when the same ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the US and Europe both welcomed it. Today, Europe appears divided over the ICC verdict against the Israeli leaders, while America is united in opposing it. The Labour Party in Britain, poised to come to power next month, backed the ICC and Germany said it would arrest or deport the Jewish state’s leader. Spain too “requested South Africa to intervene in the Gaza genocide case against Israel”.

In this toxic environment, an explosive report on May 25 in London’s Daily Telegraph stood out: “Real reason why Biden considering sanctions against ICC”, and it said: “Biden’s position on ICC underscores hollowness of his rhetoric on America’s role in world”. It said that all through his presidency, Mr Biden had “emphasised the importance of a rules-based-order”, had condemned “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine” to justify extensive US support of Kyiv, and yet “when it comes to Israel, Biden seems to take offence at an institution trying to uphold that order”.

Influential US legislators have spelt out that the US is fiercely opposed to ICC manoeuvring “not only for outrage against Israel but to protect, in future, our own interests”. US politicians “know very well that they have more to lose than any other country over an emboldened ICC willing to challenge American actions”. As “self-appointed world police, the US has regularly violated sovereignty of other countries”, the newspaper said.

America’s two-faced policy in the Levant now appears to be running out of steam, with the presidential elections looming back in the US amidst internal turbulence on the “Gaza genocide”, where it’s 1,500 (Israelis killed) versus 40,000 (Palestinians dead). Understandably US secretary of state Blinken is intensively lobbying Middle East leaders to pressure Hamas to accept the Gaza ceasefire.

The UN’s efforts to make international law enforceable through the ICJ and ICC on war crimes and genocide has become the butt of jokes. Why can’t the warmongers of the West refresh their memory to apply the anti-war instruments to halt the manslaughter of the 21st century? So many agreements have been signed to ensure the peace, but when push comes to shove, virtually all agreements, treaties, protocols and conventions fall flat as nations follow the principle of “might is right”.

Implied as a basic precept of international law is the concept of collective security and collective wisdom, despite its frequent breaches. Of all factors of international relations and conflict, however, “war crimes” and “international crimes” emerge as the most vexatious. Introduced 1906, the terms are defined as “cruelty that violates international laws governing the conduct of international armed conflicts”. The prohibition against the “killing of hostages, abuse of civilians in occupied territories and devastation that isn’t justified by military necessity” have been on the books for over a century but seems to be quickly forgotten amidst mindless butchery of “anything that moves” by fanatical fighters among the belligerents.

To tackle all these came into being the “15-member permanent tribunal of the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the UN” in 1945, followed by another “court established by statute of the ICC (effective 2002), with jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression”. The apparatus exists with all the paraphernalia, yet nothing happens except mass murder because that is the shortest and quickest way to prosperity, money, profits and road to neo-imperialism through the work of arms merchants and their clients masquerading as political leaders of the strong and mighty.

And that never ends. Just pick the wisdom of greats of the past to ponder over today’s mutilated, rotten corpses on the streets. British philosopher Isaiah Berlin referred to the 20th century “as the most terrible century in Western history”, and William Golding, the 1983 Nobel laureate for literature, felt that “this has been the violent century in human history”. The intellectual giants were right then on both counts but will fail to have any impact today as no one appears to be listening.


Tags: israel palestine conflict, ukraine conflict, international court of justice (icj)