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Crimes against humanity

The recent death of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon went unlamented in most of the Middle East and was greeted with approval on two main counts: first on the humanitarian grounds that someone who had been in a coma as a mental vegetable for eight years was at last allowed to die, and second that a man who had contributed so much to the evil persecution of the Palestinian people was no longer in the world he helped make so horrible.

The cretinous former US president George W Bush pronounced that Sharon had been “a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East,” which was a load of rubbish about a murderous rogue who had done even more than most Israeli leaders to encourage murder and mayhem. His cynical withdrawal from Gaza was intended, in the words of his spokesman, to supply the “amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

In October 2004 the BBC reported his representative as stating, while in Washington, that “When you freeze the [peace] process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent discussion on the [Palestinian] refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

At least he was candid enough to make it clear that any notion of a Palestinian state was dead, and that Washington supported its demise.

But Sharon’s greatest single crime was to facilitate massacres. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, and Sharon, as defence minister, ordered his troops to surround the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila. He then invited fanatical Phalangist gangs to go into the camps and kill Palestinians – men, women, children – and made sure the slaughter was uninterrupted. (The international force protecting the camps had been withdrawn.)

The carnage was utterly barbaric and there is little wonder that in these ghettoes, now, there was rejoicing at news of the death of the man who encouraged the murder of so many thousands. Hitler couldn’t have done it better.

In the following year an official Israel inquiry determined that Sharon bore “personal responsibility” for “not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed” in the barbaric blitz on the camps, and after much resistance he had to resign as defence minister – but stayed a member of government. For an Israeli investigation to state that any Israeli was guilty of anything even vaguely reprehensible as regards treatment of Palestinians was amazing, and the censure of Sharon should have meant his political extinction.

Not a bit of it: the blood-stained Sharon went from strength to strength, and his undoubted responsibility for the massacre of so many people was ignored. Just like the responsibility of the British army for the evil treatment of Iraqi civilians during the invasion, occupation and destruction of that unfortunate country by American and British forces.

Just as the Israeli and US governments have not permitted international legal action against Sharon (or any Israeli) for war crimes, so the British government is refusing to allow formal investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into undoubted war crimes in Iraq.

I wore the Queen’s uniform with pride for 36 years, and it saddens me greatly to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that British soldiers behaved in a barbarous manner in Iraq. It is dreadful that there should be even a whiff of such conduct – but this is no whiff: it’s a nauseating stench that won’t go away, and should be dealt with. But Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, probably the least effective occupant of that office in living memory, blithely declared that “we reject any allegations of systematic abuse.”

It’s all very well that he’s a silly little dill, but he is in a position to exert influence on his country’s moral standing in the world, and that’s extremely serious.

The ICC was given a 250-page document titled ‘The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008’ that describes incidents of torture in horrifying detail. There are accounts of beatings, electrocution and other hideous ill-treatment of over 400 Iraqis, compiled by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and an organisation called Public Interest Lawyers.

But there’s nothing new in this, because in 2006 the ICC itself stated that there was “reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhuman treatment” by British troops.

What is pathetic about the British ducking and diving is that the moment some allegations surfaced last week about possible British military assistance given to India at the time of the attack on Sikh militants in the Amritsar Temple by Indian troops in 1984, the prime minister was shocked – shocked! – and leapt in to order an “immediate investigation.” Admittedly comatose Cameron will do anything for publicity, but this struck a new low in morality, especially in the light of his refusal to permit an independent inquiry into British military culpability in much more recent affairs.

The shade of Ariel Sharon is no doubt sniggering at this farce, and well might it do so, because, just as he got away with torture, murder and mayhem in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, so will the British soldiers who did much the same in Iraq. It used to be the custom that war crimes didn’t receive publicity or justice unless committed by those who lost a war. Then, the winner claimed justice and prosecuted those responsible for atrocities.

Nowadays, however convincing the proof of inhumanity, and no matter the publicity, it is the failures who win the torture battle. Because crimes against humanity don’t matter if you live in a moral vacuum. Or a coma.

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughley, "Crimes against humanity," The News. 2014-01-20.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social rights , Refugee-Palestine , Criminal law , International laws , Human rights , Humanity , Crimes , Ariel Sharon , William Hague , President Bush , United States , Gaza , Palestine , Washington , Iraq , ICC