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Publications:  IALANA News March 2005 - Online Edition

The World Tribunal on Iraq—New York Hearing
by John Burroughs

The World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) is a global process, with hearings in cities around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul, June 23-26, 2005. The aims of WTI, in brief, are to act against the crime of silence; to create a counter-history; and to strengthen the global anti-war movement. According to the Platform Text, the legitimacy of WTI derives in part from the failure of official international institutions to hold accountable those who committed grave international crimes and constitute a continued menace to world peace.

World Tribunal sessions have been held in London, Mumbai, Copenhagen, Brussels, New York (two), several cities in Japan and Germany, Istanbul, Stockholm (with participation by Judge Weeramantry), and Rome. More are scheduled for Lisbon, Cairo, Genoa, Spain, Palestine, and Pakistan. Diverse topics have been examined, extending for example to crimes against cultural heritage (Istanbul), the role of the media (Rome) and the ideological origins of the war in the Project for a New American Century (Brussels).

The November 2003 London inquiry coordinated by Peacerights resulted in a report submitted to the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court urging that he open an investigation into alleged crimes committed by British forces. The prosecutor has declined to take action. Because Britain, unlike the United States, is a party to the Rome Statute, British nationals in principle are subject to prosecution.

Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) was a core organizer of the first New York session along with the Turkish Peace Initiative, Students for Justice in Palestine, and other groups. Held May 8, 2004, it was an all-day event at the historic Cooper Union in Manhattan attended by over one thousand people and attracting some media coverage.

In several long planning meetings months earlier, the organizers had hashed out the basic concept of the session: it would be a legally informed moral and political inquiry into the initiation and conduct of the war and occupation. While the inquiry would employ an international law framework, it would not be a mock tribunal. There was no "defense counsel," nor were formal procedures employed for examination of witnesses, and the outcome of the session was not called a judgment or indictment, but rather a statement of the jury. While it was acknowledged that the Baathist regime committed crimes for which responsible individuals should be held accountable, it was expressly only the actions of the United States and its allies which were at issue. The jury comprised activists, writers, lawyers, and academics. Most were predisposed to be sympathetic to - even to want to go beyond - the arguments of the advocates. Given all of this, the session did not have the "objective" tone of either a court or an academic symposium. Rather it was infused with passion, yet based upon facts and arguments.

The presentations employed large screen projections of text, photos, and videos, as well as live witnesses and audio tapes of persons in Iraq. The topics were violation of the UN Charter in the launching of the war; violations of international humanitarian law (war crimes) committed during the period of declared hostilities, March 20 - May 1, 2003; and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed during the occupation. Among the presenters were LCNP's Peter Weiss, who addressed the initiation of the war, and John Burroughs, who addressed the failure to prevent looting of the Iraqi nuclear complex, the use of DU munitions, and the killing of Iraqi soldiers as well as civilians.

After explaining the lack of a rationale for the war under the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions, Mr. Weiss declared: "The United States therefore is left only with its newfangled doctrine of 'preventive war,' which not only lacks any foundation in international law, but undermines the entire war-regulating structure of the Charter. What is more, as is well known by now, this arrogant doctrine as applied to Iraq was based on a tissue of prefabricated lies."

One must ask, what difference do the New York session and other sessions held around the world make? Certainly the New York session contributed to the making of a record regarding the Iraq war, including the development of evidence that could be used in actual cases. On the issues, it educated those involved and those who visit the website or see the video. It empowered its organizers. And it contributed to the global WTI process, whose outcome remains to be seen.

The images of bombs falling like
grapes from the sky and children
playing in barrels of uranium, the
language of not calling it torture, and
the failure to provide security,
water, health and to protect the
ancient cultural property of Iraq
shatters my heart: I hold a human
shame, a sorrow that is so vast and
so deep there is a physical aching in
all of me.

Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina
Monologues and a member of the NY jury

For further information see: WTI website: www.worldtribunal.org NY Tribunal website (including presentations, video info and evidence): www.worldtribunal-nyc.org LCNP and IALANA articles and activities related to Iraq war: www.lcnp.org/global/iraqindex.htm Peacerights Report: www.inlap.freeuk.com/peacerights-inquiry.pdf

John Burroughs is the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy.


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