Monday, October 19, 2009

Judge Goldstone's dangerous emphasis on international courts

Judge Richard Goldstone attempts to explain today, in The Jerusalem Post, why he agreed to head the UN investigation into Operation Cast Lead.

He says that he felt obligated to accept the mission "as a Jew", which comes across as more than a little arrogant - the (possibly unintended) implication is that he's the only good Jew out there, unlike the Israelis and their Jewish supporters across the world, who opposed his investigation from the start.

He says that "as a condition of my participation I insisted upon and received an evenhanded mandate to investigate all sides and that is what we sought to do." Israel, however, sabotaged his attempts to fulfil his mission because it refused to cooperate.

With hindsight, it is a good question whether Israel made a mistake here; it argued that the report was always going to be biased and unfair, but could it have softened the blow and improved its position in the aftermath? Still, this does not excuse Judge Goldstone for relying so heavily on Hamas testimony and apparantly accepting it at face value.

The most interesting part of his piece, however, are the following (initially stale-sounding) paragraphs:

Over the past 20 years, I have investigated serious violations of international law in my own country, South Africa, in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and the alleged fraud and theft by governments and political leaders in a number of countries in connection with the United Nations Iraq Oil for Food program. In all of these, allegations reached the highest political echelons. In every instance, I spoke out strongly in favor of full investigations and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions. I have spoken out over the years on behalf of the International Bar Association against human rights violations in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Pakistan...

Israel and its courts have always recognized that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.

Israel, by the way, has argued that these laws, drawn up decades ago, are utterly out of date when it comes to modern warfare, which is often carried out in urban areas, and has asked to have them re-drafted (this is also relevant to other armies fighting at the moment, eg America and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq).

In any case, Judge Goldstone's almost blind belief in the role of international courts backs up one of the most incisive commentaries I've read, by South African historian and journalist RW Johnson, in the Sunday Times this week:

Goldstone is keen to play a judicial or prosecutorial role on a world stage. Thus he has argued that the Darfur crisis should go before an international court, as should Robert Mugabe for crimes against humanity. He also argued that Saddam Hussein should have been handed to an international court since Iraqi courts weren’t good enough and even that the 9/11 masterminds should be sent before an international court because US courts would be perceived as biased. No doubt the lawyer who judges Osama Bin Laden will become a world celebrity.

Similarly, he has recommended any cases of Israeli crimes against humanity in Gaza go before an international court.

Throughout his career, Goldstone has been accused of cutting corners because of ambition, and critics say his Gaza commission has set a new low. That a Jewish judge, barred from entering Israel for accepting a commission biased against the state, should write a report based largely on interviews with Hamas which panders to anti-Zionist (even anti-Semitic) opinion seems unbeatable.

With this longstanding agenda of sending local matters to international courts, did Israel ever stand a chance?

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