(6/3/04) HALIFAX --Between 80 to 100 law students participated in a vigorous conference at Dalhousie University on March 5-6, discussing law and its application to a wide range of problems, from Canada's fisheries and other resource sectors, to aboriginal rights, living on the street and homelessness, and the illegality of participation in the wars in Yguslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The national conference was convened under the auspices of SpinLaw, a law student group originating at the University of Toronto Law School and Osgoode Hall (the law school of York University in Toronto), and organised locally by the Social Activist Law Students Association at Dalhousie University. a presentation in which keynote presenter Michael Mandel, a professor of international law at Osgoode Hall, who organised Lawyers Against The War, asked: "Can we do good things through law, or should we concentrate on stopping bad things through law?", the importance of using legal forums, including even the International Court set up to try Slobodan Milosevic, the last president of Yugoslavia, in order to expose "the aggressive imperialist policy of the United States" occupied pride of place.

Prof. Mandel was careful to advise against fetishising any particular piece of law, even the apparently most "anti-war" portions of customary international law emanating from key decisions of the United Nations or the famous "Nuremburg Statutes".

The Nuremburg Statutes established the essential principle that unleashing a war of aggression is the supreme crime, in which -- by virtue of the conflict being illegal and unauthorised -- all killing automatically becomes murder. Principle II held that the "(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances" and the "(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i). are such "Crimes Against Peace", "a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity" as set out in Principle VII and "a crime under international law".

By this standard, the war against Iraq, as with the war against Yugoslavia, was blatantly illegal. The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was also not justified by any Resolutions of the United Nations or its Secuity Council, although resolutions providing for inspections were consistently cited as a smokescreen by Bush and Blair to legitimate aggression. In terms of Yugoslavia the rationale of humanitarian intervention was cited as the excuse after the fact, that is, after the U.S. and the NATO alliance launched aggression.

Additionally, a wide range of activities -- from expelling the resident population of a militarily occupied zone (as in former Yugoslavia) to moving one's own population into an occupied area (as Israel has been doing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the end of the June 1967 war) -- become "war crimes".

But the Nuremburg Tribunal itself, from which these statutes emerged, Prof. Mandel stressed, actually operated to exonerate or save the hide of some of the most brutal, murderous and utterly unrepentant Nazi leaders. The U.S., and later the entire NATO alliance, used the Nazis to more efficiently penetrate and combat the Soviet bloc by taking advantage of specialised knowledge possessed or acquired uniquely by these individuals on behalf of the Hitler regime.

At the same time, the principal arrangements put in place since the end of the Second World War -- including the United Nations Charter (1945), the Nuremburg Statutes (1946), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), and the International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic and Social Rights (ICCPR & ICESR, in the 1960s) -- still provided important benchmarks for assessing, censoring and sanctioning behaviour by states that is deemed to have gone beyond the pale of what the rest of the world community deems acceptable.

The single most remarkable feature of the wars unleashed by the U.S. and its allies in Kosovo / former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan and now in Iraq was their stark absence of any legitimacy whatever in light of any of these instruments. The deepening of popular discontent with the undertaking of such adventures was inseparable from this sense of Great Powers attempting to raise anarchy to the level of authority.

more information about the Conference: http://www.spinlaw.ca/idealaw/

 


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