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Wellington People's Court

27 October 2001

Just a couple of days ago, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that three ballistic missile weapons tests, due to take place in the past week would be postponed. He said, and I quote "I do not want to put the United States in a position of having someone raise a question about whether or not something is a violation of a treaty," he said. "I don't think that's the position the United States wants to be in."

What an obscene joke. The US government and its warmongering allies currently waging war on the people of Afghanistan are in the position of being in violation of so many international agreements and treaties that it would take hours to list them all.

My role in today's rally was to speak about international law. Rather than have me pontificate on about it, we have decided instead to convene a people's court - I will read you some examples of international agreements and you can judge for yourself whether or not the accused (that is, the warmongering governments, including that of this country) are violating international law at this time. You will all be the jury, and the three people here with me on the stage - Maxine from the unions, Grace from the students, and Elaine from the churches will be the judges who will rule on your verdicts.

Let's begin with two examples from the United Nations Charter:

Article 2, point 3: All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state ...

In respect of these two points, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of violations of the UN Charter?

People's court - guilty.

Next to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Genocide is defined in Article 2 as ... any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ...

In respect of points a,b and c, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of violating the Genocide Convention?

People's court: guilty.

Next we have the 1977 First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of civilians, and the first two examples are: from Article 48 ... in order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects ... parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives .... and from Article 54: it is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless [any] objects [which are] indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs ... crops, livestock, drinking water, installations and supplies and irrigation works ...

In respect of these points from Articles 48 and 54, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of violating the First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions?

People's court: guilty.

Further in relation to the First Protocol and the attacks on the people of Afghanistan, both generally and with specific reference to the dropping of cluster bombs, and the firing of depleted uranium ammunition by the US and other armed forces, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of violating Article 51: Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate acts are .... those which employ a method of means of combat the effects of which cannot be specifically directed at a military objective ..... how do you find the accused on this charge?

People's court: guilty.

And finally, we come to the Nuremberg Principles, on which much international law since the 1950s is based, there are three crimes specified within the Principles:

(a) Crimes against peace: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of [these acts].

Do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of Crimes Against Peace?

People's court: guilty.

(b) War Crimes: in particular - violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill treatment of the civilian population ... wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

Do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of War Crimes?

People's court: guilty.

(c) Crimes Against Humanity: in particular - murder ... and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of, or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of Crimes Against Humanity?

People's court: guilty.

The judges unanimously agree with the findings of the People's Court.

Thank you for your participation in the people's court, you heard the sample charges, and judged for yourself whether or not the warmongering governments are breaching international law. One of the areas we didn't cover is the fact that this war has not been authorised by the UN Security Council (as Article 51 and other articles of the UN Charter requires it to be). For myself, and I guess for many of you here today, it is totally irrelevant whether or not the killing of the people of Afghanistan has been authorised by the Security Council. Even if the Security Council does authorise the use of force in this situation, it will not make it right.

The people of Afghanistan are not the ones who carried out the attacks in New York and Washington, yet they are the ones now dying at the hands of the US government and its allies. This is not justice - it is revenge and murder. The people directly involved in the attacks in New York and Washington must be identified, have their guilt established and be punished for their crime. That is usually what people mean when they talk of justice - not the wholesale slaughter of a criminal's family, everyone in any towns near them, or indeed in a country where they may have been living.

This war is wrong in every way - it is not only illegal under international law, but it is most of all unjust and immoral.

Edwina Hughes, Peace Movement Aotearoa. Rally for peace in Wellington, part of the International Day of Action to Stop War and End Racism.

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