An Honourable Abode For John Kiriakou

In the United States of America a citizen called John Kiriakou is in prison. Mr Kiriakou (in Britain we would spell his surname Kyriacou) has apparently or allegedly committed the heinous crime of exposing torture committed by US government personnel. You should know that it is not against the law in America to torture people; there is no law against that, but it is against the law in America to expose or publicise the fact that American personnel have been torturing people. Continue reading

The Legality of the Referendum in Crimea

I take an interest in international law, which is a mysterious branch of law, because so much of it seems to be made up by economic winners or military victors in order to oppress their competitors or the defeated. Nevertheless there is a large body of international law these days, but much of it is uncertain.

When various politicians and commentators claimed that the referendum that is being held in the Crimea today was illegal under international law, I could not understand the rationale of such claim. It may be that the referendum was called too hastily to enable a proper consideration of the issues or that there are fears that the referendum will be manipulated, corrupted or no more than a propaganda exercise.  I was at a loss to discover how the holding of a referendum can be illegal.

I think the answer is obvious: it is not illegal for part of a state to hold a referendum about independence or cessation. If it were then the forthcoming referendum in Scotland would be illegal and the referendum which decided the split of the Slovakia from Czechoslovakia would have been illegal but patently they were not.

Whether if following the results of a referendum the Crimea declared independence or Union with the Russian federation such moves would be illegal under international law is another question. In such matters international law usually takes a pragmatic view; those who control an area are recognised as the lawful government of it, usually but not always.

I suppose that what those who describe the referendum in Crimea fear is this: if it is shown that there was a free and fair referendum held according to ordinarily accepted principles of democracy and that referendum proved that the majority of Crimeans want to leave the Ukraine, then such a result would be inconvenient to those who oppose this happening. It is inconvenient for the western democracies to find that the Crimeans prefer Russia to the Ukraine, but inconvenience is not illegality.

Some argue that the illegality of the referendum is determined by Article 73 of the Ukrainian Constitution which states that alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum. However, that provision does not, as far as I can see prohibit the counting of votes, and what is illegal under the Ukrainian Constitution is not necessarily illegal under international law.

The referendum being held today is not a choice between all the options available to the people of the Crimea; they are only being allowed to vote on whether the Crimea should secede or be absorbed into the Russian Federation and there is no choice being given to remain part of the Ukraine. That certainly seems to me to designate the referendum as being undemocratic, but it is not against international law to hold undemocratic elections and if it were very few elections would be legal.

On that point one could argue that the forthcoming Scottish referendum is undemocratic because it allows only a choice of two options – the choice of a third option of more autonomy within the United Kingdom will not be available to the Scots.

Syria is Entitled to Take Pre-Emptive Action

For many years, at least from the start of recorded history, nations have people have justified the use of force first on the grounds that they were taking pre-emptive action to protect themselves. If you know that a foe intends to attack you, international law states, you do not have to wait to be attacked and you can make a pre-emptive first strike to prevent or deter being attacked. Traditionally bellicose threats and statements are sufficient grounds to enable you to take pre-emptive action. States like Israel and the USA have relied on this doctrine, without which many of their military actions would be definitely illegal under international law.

We should consider then the present position of Syria. Syria is threatened with some kind of action, probably bombing or missile attacks, from the USA. Interesting the grounds upon which such action is proposed is an unproven allegation that Syria used chemical weapons in the course of its civil war. Syria denies the claim and sitting at my desk in London I have no idea whether that denial is false or true. What seems to be true is that Syria manufactured its chemical weapons from constituents sold to it by British and American companies. I suppose that was to be expected; The Western democracies do specialise in hypocrisy.

Now, being threatened with military action it seems to me that Syria is justified in International law in making pre-emptive strikes against those that threaten it. Syria is unlikely to do this, even though it may be legally justified under international law becasue to take pre-emptive action action the USA means breaking the first tenets of International Law: might is right and the mightier you are the righer you are.

Chemical Weapons Used by the Western Democracies

The exotic foreign policy of the United Kingdom is about to become a great deal more exotic. Parliament has been recalled four days early in order to debate whether some kind of military action should be undertaken by the United Kingdom in Syria. The United States is also proposing some kind of military action as is France. They are concerned to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. That is the stated concern and it has arisen because 355 people have died in Syria as a result of a chemical weapons attack. Continue reading

One Law for the Rich…

A head of state has special rights under international law. The sovereign is immune from any interference unless that interference arises in the course of a war. However much we may dislike a head of state we must respect his or her immunity. These rules have been present for many hundreds of years; they allow of diplomats, who are the sovereign’s representatives to travel freely and promote the interests of their nation in foreign territories. That immunity extends to the sovereign’s territory, his travel arrangements and his effects, as well as his person. So when that immunity is breached, that is a breach of international law. These rules, adopted by all members of the United Nations, were breached, seriously breached yesterday when President Morales of Bolivia tries to return home from negotiations in Moscow about oil and gas.

Mr Morales boarded his presidential plane; that is in international law the sovereign territory of the Republic of Bolivia, named for Simon Bolivar, the liberator of much of South America and Latin America from the oppression of Spain. Mr Morales expected to fly from Moscow to La Paz as every other head of state expects to travel, without let or hindrance, in the words of the old fashioned passport. In fact his journey proved to be full of let and hindrance. France, Spain, Italy and Portugal refused permission for Mr Morales’ plane to fly over their airspace.

It seems that these nations were informed, presumably by the United States of America, that Mr Morales was returning with Edward Snowden on the plane, in order to give Mr Snowden sanctuary and asylum in Bolivia. Italy, France, Portugal and Spain would believe what the Americans told them; after all had not Mr Snowden exposed that the United States mount an incredibly detailed and widespread spying operation over virtually the whole world, enemies and allies alike. Presumably Italy France Portugal and Spain thought that they ought to break international law to enable Mr Snowden to be punished for revealing the extent of US spying, which includes spying on their own citizens.

As it turned out, Mr Snowden was not with president Morales who had no intention of giving Mr Snowden a lift to Bolivia. Even if Mr Snowden was on board the plane, it would have made no difference under international law; the plane was Bolivian territory and carrying its president; it was inviolate, or was supposed to be.

But these niceties of international law do not apply, it seems, to small nations like Bolivia; their former colonial masters and the most powerful nations of the world may decide to break international law, with impunity. Of course these nations prey international law in aid when they decide that they wish to do thing like invade Iraq, bomb Afghanistan and Libya. For them international law is a voluntary code which they can opt in and opt out of at will.

Mr Morales plane was diverted to Vienna; he was delayed there for ten hours. Eventually he made it home.

France has since apologised; it has implied that it did not know that President Morales was on the plane and that President Hollande gave permission to use French airspace after it was known. It sounds an improbable story. The Iberian nations, the old colonial masters who in the past plundered much of South America, have not yet sought to explain or justify their actions.

I suppose we should not be too surprised by these events. As in life where there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor, there is one law for the rich powerful nations and another law for the poor small nations.

Global Warming – Follow the Money

Although you may read incorrect reports that the planet has not warmed in the last decade, those reports are usually inaccurately reported. It is impossible to summarise a detailed scientific analysis of global warming in the sound bite journalism beloved of the popular press. It is true that global mean temperatures in the past decade, taking the planet as a whole and based on those parts of the land surface that are measure have not risen in the past ten years, but two thirds of the planet is covered by water or ice and those parts of the planet have experienced warming. Continue reading

Drone Deaths and Marathon Murders

Killing people is wrong. Life is too valuable and precious to be wasted.In the United States Mr Obama has mourned the death of some innocents killed at the Boston Marathon. We wonder why anyone would choose to kill with bombs while people are innocently watching a sporting event. The deaths will be justified in the minds of the perpetrators.They will have their reasons, whether it be revenge or hatred, they will have their reasons. Three dead at Boston, many wounded and the world mourns; the world mourns at events to show sympathy for the three Americans who lost the lives and the many maimed and injured. Continue reading