International Law constitutes the structure and the fabric which helps to hold international society back from a descent into barbarism.
But, as is the case in holding any government accountable to law, the efficacy of international law depends on its being actively invoked and supported by citizens. In the international sphere, this “demand for law” must come from citizens in diffrent countries around the world, and their governments.
We have observed for some time that adherence to and support for international law and institutions has become highly problematical in the foreign policy decision making of the United States and other countries. In the news story below, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) highlights the disregard for humanitarian law (“the laws of war”) that belligerents have increasingly shown in recent years.
For MSF’s warning relating to the demise of humanitarian law in armed conflicts, see
Kareem Shaheen (Beirut), “Wars are being fought as in ‘barbarian times’, warns MSF chief; Charity head speaks out after hospital attacks and says focus on terrorism is threatening the rules which govern warfare,” The Guardian, March 7, 2016 (06.58 EST).
Particularly troubling is the attack on a MSF hospital in Kunduz in Afghanistan by U.S. forces, under circumstances that strongly suggest that it was deliberate.
Last October, an MSF hospital in Afghanistan’s Kunduz district was destroyed after an hour of sustained airstrikes by the United States, despite repeated calls by the charity to the American-led coalition and the fact its GPS coordinates had been provided in advance.
“I think the last [attack in Syria] and the event in Kunduz, what is striking is the precision of the attack, the insistence of the attack and the persistence of the attack over time,” (MSF President Joanne Liu) said.
MSF has continued to insist on an independent investigation into the Kunduz strikes – Liu said it was obvious the attack was very precise, since even trees around the hospital compound were completely intact, whereas much of the hospital itself was burned to the ground.
–Kareem Shaheen, above.
Without the moral compass international law, including international human rights law and humanitariann law, we are ultimately lost.
We can see this happening now, every day, as the statement of the president of MSF quoted above makes clear.
For the United States, the turn away from international has marked a sharp aberration from the open support of international law and institutions, and for building new ones to deal with new challenges (potential militarization of space or of the seabed, for example).
Under President George W. Bush and President Barck Obama, the turn away from international law, underway since the administration of Ronald Reagan in the early 1980’s, accelerated sharply.
One need only mention the invasion of Iraq in 2003 in flagrant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Naitons Charter, the adoption of torture as the official policy of the U.S. under Geroge W. Bush and Barack Obama’s failure to bring those responsible for torture to justice as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and the failure to stand up strongly against Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008 and in the Ukraine and the Criimea in 2014.
Even France, one of the cradles of democratic values and the struggle for freedom since the French Revolution, has adopted internal security laws which give police and anti-terrorism officials some of the powers of a police state, where such actions are not subject to any requirements of judicial authorization or judicial review.
In the end, it appears that those who have not studied and grasped the lessons of 20th century history, particularly in Europe, cannot understand what is at stake in the ongoing struggles of the 21st century, and the actions that need to be taken to avoid the repetition of the horrors the United Nations was founded in 1945 to prevent.
The Trenchant Observer