Hong Kong and Democracy Calling: Letters for London

umbrella revolutionHong Kong was for many years under British control. In handing back this possession to China the British Government did well to establish, in the 1984 Accord, guarantees of its continued democratic system being respected (at least for 50 years). It confirmed that ‘the Chinese authorities have agreed Hong Kong will maintain a high degree of local autonomy and keep power over its social, economic and legal systems’.(1) This was a deal which had to be done. We could not hold on to something which was, after all, only leased to us in the first place.(2) However, in light of the ongoing protests and the apparent attack on the democratic process which the Hong Kong citizens seem to value so much, do we here in Britain have any ‘special’ responsibility to intervene, more than in any other country that is striving for democracy such as we saw (and are still seeing) in the ‘Arab Spring’?

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Think of what we’ve achieved

North_America_from_low_orbiting_satellite_Suomi_NPP

During a recent conversation with a colleague regarding the pessimism that can so easily set in when watching the news, reading the newspapers or viewing other media outlets, it struck us both that not enough was made of all the good works that so many people were doing every day throughout the globe. It is beyond the scope and capability of me here to comment on all those individuals and small groups making a difference, however, a quick look at the major institutions may be possible.

The aim here is to give some insight into the enormous efforts, time, and money that is invested every day, week, month, and year by those that are so often (especially in our country) denounced as ‘doing no good’ but in fact are doing immeasurable good. I am referring to the European Union, the United Nations, and yes, even the United States of America does some great things in the world.

I am not attempting to argue these institutions are perfect, or balance good actions against bad; I am simply seeking to present some positive facts about the global situation to counter the continuous presentation of war, terrorism, famine, drought, climate change, mass inequality and human rights violations. The doom and gloom so often presented is only one side of the story of our age, the other is one of hope and a potential future we could be proud of helping to come to pass. To prove it let us look at those global players.

The United States is often seen in a negative light. However, their foreign aid budget provides around $30 Billion of international aid.[1] It is true, that in percentages terms the United States are by no means the top donor (that honour goes to Sweden and Norway as of 2011 figures) but the United States still occupies a central donor role in real-terms aid rather than percentages of GNI (Gross National Income).[2] Let us look at what this aid means to the people it helps rather than debating figures and percentages.[3]

It means more than 3 million lives saved every year through United States aid funded immunization programs, it has funded HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 32 countries, and is the recognized ‘technical leader in the design and development of these programs in the developing world’. Child survival programs have made a major contribution to a 10 percent reduction in infant mortality rates worldwide in just the past eight years. With the help of United States aid, 21,000 farm families in Honduras have been trained in improved land cultivation practices which have reduced soil erosion by 70,000 tons. These are just a few figures to give an impression of the scale of help and assistance provided. Of course the United States could (and perhaps should) do more, but let us not think they do nothing good in the world.

What of the European Union that gets so much negative press here in Britain? The European Union is involved in the fight against world hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The European Commission has recently adopted a policy which aims to improve the nutrition of mothers and children in order to reduce mortality and diseases.[4]

The EU (and that includes us here in Britain) ‘provides an annual average of €200 million, dedicated to support health programmes’ which amounts to 30% of global humanitarian health funding’.[5] Clean water and sanitation and good hygiene standards are vital to prevent epidemic outbreaks. ‘The EU (and that’s us here in Britain too) allocates around €200 million each year to humanitarian WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) interventions, making “us” the biggest donor in the world.[6] The EU is a major contributor to the global efforts to create a fair, just and prosperous world, and something we in Britain should be proud to be part of and celebrate.

What can be said of the United Nations? So often we only hear of the UN in terms of its inability at preventing war, stop violence or eradicate mass inequality and poverty. However, the United Nations is continuously helping millions of people all over the planet. The World Food Programme is the ‘world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide’ and in 2013 ‘assisted more than 80 million people in 75 countries.[7]

The global community (coordinated by the UN) has reduced hunger and poverty as part of the Millennium Development Goals, with the number of hungry people reduced by 173 million since 1990 with poverty cut in half since 2000.[8] The United Nations has highlighted injustices against the ‘370 million to 500 million indigenous people’ and works to improve their situation ‘all over the world in development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health’.[9] Through the tireless work of the UN the ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’ has been ratified by 187 countries and has ‘helped to promote the rights of women worldwide’.[10]

None of these amazing achievements should be overstated, it is certainly not my claim that discrimination against women is in any way a historical issue, or that poverty, disease and inequality is no more. However, we must recognise the gains we, as a global community, have made. I do not believe in a previous “golden age” when all was right in the world.

Inequality, hunger, disease and war have been the lot of the human race since time immemorial. However, we are making the first steps towards a future “golden age” and we must not let all the problems that are still to be resolved distract us or create a sense of futility that may prevent our enthusiasm and action. Let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom that is so often presented to us, the world IS getting better, it’s just a very big world, with a lot of people and a lot of problems to solve, but we have made a good start.


Michael Stagg is a volunteer at the WCIA who recently completed a degree in Politics and History at Cardiff University.


U.S. Foreign Aid

http://www.usaid.gov/results-and-data/  (All data correct as of May 2014, it should also be acknowledged that these are US government figures)
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-221_en.htm?locale=en
http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/what/humanitarian-aid/health
http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/what/humanitarian-aid/water-sanitation-hygiene
http://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/wfp-providing-food-refugees-fleeing-violence-nigeria
http://www.wfp.org/stories/millennium-development-goals-achievements
http://www.un.org/en/un60/60ways/rights.shtml

Britain and Africa after 50: Social justice and development.


Michael StaggMichael Stagg

 

 


e_news_feb

Britain & Africa at 50: WCIA & British International Studies Association

Speakers: Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society (RAS) & Dr Edwin Egede, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Cardiff University, and member of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Chair: Dr. Carl Death, Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy, Manchester University and Martin Pollard, Chief Executive of the WCIA.

A view from an attendee

As the audience made its way in to the main council chamber at the Temple of Peace it became clear that Africa has a place in the conscience of the Welsh people and demands the interest of a wide variety of individuals and groups. A lively chat began the evening with each arrival joining small groups, building links and connections within this vibrant community interested in Africa, international development, and international affairs. There were academics, students, interest groups, concerned citizens and members of the diaspora community, all to hear the insights of the two prestigious speakers, Richard Dowden and Dr Edwin Egede.

Richard Dowden began the event with an oversight of the turbulent relationship between Africa and Britain (as well as the rest of Europe). That turbulent past still informs the relationship to this day. This history was first formed at the Berlin Conference, with the European powers drawing lines on a map with no regard or knowledge of the communities they were dividing or forming. It was continued with the massive ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ that the IMF and World Bank forced upon it in the 1980’s. This, he argued should be considered a “crime against humanity”. He continued his talk explaining what he saw as the two narratives that dominate the western view of Africa. One regards Africa as a rich continent ripe for exploitation. The second view understands Africa as a continent that is in need of saving (may be even from itself!). This, he argues, has been the story of this mixed history. He called for people to go to Africa and experience for themselves and commending the community to community links so richly fostered throughout Wales. However, the key theme of this event from both speakers was one of hopefulness for the future of Africa. “This is Africa’s moment” Richard Dowden proclaimed. There is an increasing self-confident Africa emerging, standing up to the western and emerging eastern powers alike. Aid is no longer what Africa cries out for; the buzz word now is equality and trade. Indeed, Richard Dowden believes the next big challenge for African states is turning the apparent abundance of wealth in to what he termed “the good life” for their people.

Dr Edwin Egede (the second speaker) agreed with much of what Richard Dowden put forward. Dr Egede argued convincingly that Africa could be the economic power-house of the future. He cited the growing number of young entrepreneurs, along with an enormous wealth of natural and human resources. However, Dr Egede rightly drew attention to the undeniable fact that there is still so much poverty and inequality throughout Africa. Ethnic conflict and poor political governance, he argued, are still key issues blighting Africa. The reality is, as both speakers so rightly expressed, Africa is continuing to dealing with, what Dr Egede referred to as “an ugly hand from the past”. This ugly hand is the hand of European colonialism in which Britain played no small part. Indeed, the International Courts of Justice (ICJ) has described colonialism as a “wound” which will take time to heal. Dr Egede focused his talk on Nigeria, and there was agreement here with Richard Dowden, in Nigeria, aid is seen with suspicion. They fear that it is another form of colonialism. They seek equality with Britain, not hand-outs. Dr Egede ended his talk with a similar optimism shown by Richard Dowden. He believes “A new generation of leaders is emerging”, one that identifies with the nation state, not ethnic sectarianism. Dr Egede believes that Nigeria (as with Africa) will stand or fall by the quality of this new leadership. It seems that the ugly hand of history is slowly letting go.

There was, following these insightful talks, some questions from the audience. Religion was approached with both speakers being asked if, in their opinion it was a force for good or bad? Richard (as an agnostic) felt it could be both. However, as a former journalist, he witnessed religion bring hope and resilience to those most in need of solace and fortitude.  Dr Egede (an ordained minister) agreed, Religion brought hope to millions, however accepted it could be manipulated by those with other motives. Some questioned the dangers associated with nationalism (which Europe suffered so terrible) however, Dr Egede felt no such outcome was likely in Africa, ethnic sectarianism was the real threat in Africa.

To end this piece, it is worth remembering that colonial rule (or miss-rule) in Africa is recent history not ancient history; this was made clear in both speakers insightful remarks. However, even though as Dr Egede stated the “ugly hand creeps in from time to time” Africa is finding its own place and its own voice. It is coming out of the shadow of the Berlin Conference and its future is one that must hold more for its citizens than its past. Our choice is to decide on our role. Are we to be a friend who helps but does not preach, or are we to be, as Dr Egede so eloquently described, Africa’s “evil step mother”. I choose to be a friend, as did all in attendance at this informative and hopeful lecture series.


You can find out more about the BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group and their forthcoming events which includes the Britain and Africa after 50 series by going to the BISA website and following them on Twitter and Facebook.

A Hopeful Sign: IAEA Endorses Iran’s Nuclear Action Plan

A general view of the E3/EU+3 Iran Talks, 20 November 2013. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

A general view of the E3/EU+3 Iran Talks, 20 November 2013. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The United Nations (UN) atomic watchdog has endorsed the plan to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. This is a major step forward in the ongoing mission to bring Iran in line with the UN aim of a non-nuclear age. Iran has always argued that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only, which it is free to pursue. However, some other countries (especially Israel) have contended that it is driven by military ambitions. This has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years. This is in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has urged the rest of the world to stop treating his country as a pariah state. He continued to assert that ‘Nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy and Iran has no motivation to move in that direction’, he assured the world he (and Iran) is committed to a ‘constructive engagement’ with the international community. However, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later dismissed these claims asserting they prove to show nothing more than a ‘change in words and unchanging deeds.’ Yet, when Israel itself has a nuclear programme that is described as an ‘open secret’, it is no wonder that Israel has always felt a clandestine programme was under-way in Iran. Indeed Israel’s nuclear programme is one that the Western Powers have systematically avoided to mention. This could have much to do with the fact that many nations secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or turned a blind eye to its theft. These include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation, the US, France, Germany, Britain. Of course Israel, unlike Iran, never signed up to the 1968 NPT so could not violate it. However, this should not cloud our view of the seriousness that Iran itself may assign to the fact that Israel is a nuclear armed nation.

Regardless, the plan envisages the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertaking monitoring and verification of a series of ‘voluntary measures’ to be taken by Iran over a period of six months. it is hoped by the IAEA that the work undertaken by the Agency will provide an important contribution to resolving this important issue and will lead to further positive developments. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ‘warmly welcomes the interim agreement that has been reached in Geneva regarding the nuclear programme of Iran’. He again confirmed the UN’s ‘unswerving commitment’ to the aim of total nuclear disarmament. Having said all that, Iran has postponed talks due to be held in January until 8th February, but regardless of this brief setback the USA has hailed Iran’s suspension of high-level uranium enrichment as an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ after a long stand-off that threatened to ignite yet another conflict in the Middle East. This must be seen as marking a substantial breakthrough in the ongoing struggle against nuclear proliferation and the threat to global peace and security it represents.

Finally, it is worth noting the impact that sanctions has had on the situation, they are a very complex and often divisive issue. There are reasonable arguments that they only impact on the innocent citizens and not those in power. However, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation (AEOI), said in a televised report ‘the iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting’. This partial lifting of sanctions will ease restrictions on trade in petrochemicals and precious metals as well as other areas of trade. This, in many ways shows the importance that a successful and committed policy of sanctions can have on states’ actions and policies. They are not always the most effective form of international relations.  However, the statement from Ali Akbar Salechi shows that these sanctions and their lifting is a substantial issue for Iran, its leaders and population and as such must be seen as playing their part.

Finally, it is with some hope that this blog post is written, in a time when there is much to be concerned about in the region, with the situation in Syria being nothing less than horrific. With the situations in Ukraine and Egypt, South Sudan and Lebanon all suffering from a threat to their peace and hard-fought for democracy it is worth noting when there is a glimmer of positivity in the realm of international peace.

Further Reading

  • 2014. UN atomic watchdog endorses plan to ensure peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. United Nations News, [online] 24 January. Available at: <un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46996&Cr=nuclear&Cr1=iran#.Uud0SBDFKM9> [Accessed 26 January 2014].
  • TREATY ON THE NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS (NPT). United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, [online] Available at: <un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPT.shtml> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2013. WELCOMING HISTORIC AGREEMENT ON IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAMME, SECRETARY-GENERAL. United Nations Department of Public Information, [online] 23 November. Available at: <un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sgsm15491.doc.htm> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal. The Guardian Online, [online] 15 January. Available at: <theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/15/truth-israels-secret-nuclear-arsenal> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. Iran and IAEA postpone nuclear talks until February. The Guardian Online, [online] 14 January. Available at: <theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/14/iaea-iran-postpone-nuclear-talks-february> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. US hails ‘unprecedented opportunity’ as Iran halts enriching high-level uranium. The Guardian Online, [online] 20 January. Available at: <theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/20/iran-halt-enrichment-uranium-iaea-confirms-eu-sanctions> [Accessed 28 January 2014].

Mandela’s Legacy? Will be what we make it…

UNAMID Observes Nelson Mandela International Day

The passing of Nelson Mandela is a sombre time, not just for South Africa but for the whole world. The coming together of numerous Presidents, Prime Ministers and Religious Leaders, of friends, allies, and even enemies to celebrate the life of Mandela is a sign of his impact on the international community. However, this blog does not seek to do what others can and have done better. As Obama stated, ‘It is hard to eulogise any man… how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice’. Instead, it looks at what legacy should we attempt to give to Mandela, and one fitting for a man who fought for justice and human rights for all. As Mandela himself said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’. The full enjoyment of Human Rights by all and the alleviation of poverty and disease are a challenge that Nelson Mandela fought for, and one that can and must be achieved. This is the only fitting legacy we can offer.

The international community has come so far since the signing, on the 10th December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet its first Article, that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights […]’ is still far from realised. Ban Ki-moon, in his address at Mandela’s commemoration stated that ‘our struggle continues – against inequality and intolerance and for prosperity and peace’. We must remember that there are innumerable people in the world that are vulnerable and in need of our help. Many are still fighting the battle that Mandela fought in South Africa. The example that Mandela provides is of a value that is hard to quantify. Mandela campaigned against Racism and Bigotry, focused on HIV/Aids, his dream for our children was one in which ‘every child’ has a first-class primary education, and the elimination of ‘all preventable diseases in society’ so that we can say ‘in theory and in practice’ that we regard our ‘children as the jewels in our society’.

There are many good news stories that are signs of what we can achieve. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS welcomed today a $12 billion commitment by international partners to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The number of people killed by malaria has been cut by nearly half in Africa, an amazing step forward. An independent United Nations human rights expert recently ‘welcomed the release of 44 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar’, a small victory but each one of these 44 is part of a family and a community, and their release will be greeted with joy. President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz A. Henczel, stated that ‘The United Nations Human Rights Council has achieved significant progress in the past year, implementing an increasing number of mandates’. Successes were far-reaching and would have a dramatic impact on those it sought to protect. These included resolutions on ‘the elimination of early and forced marriages, the question of the death penalty, as well as the role of freedom of opinion and women’s empowerment’.

All these instances show that progress is possible and is happening right now. Of course there are countless stories of terrifying poverty, disease and human rights violations, but these should spur us on to do more. Obama said ‘Nelson Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas’. Aung San Suu Kyi Burma’s pro-democracy leader paid her tribute, Mandela ‘stood for human rights and for equality in this world. He also made us understand that we can change the world’. It is up to all who want to be part of a fitting legacy to take these words, and Mandela’s example to heart.

We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference’. (Nelson Mandela).

Michael Stagg

Sources.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25311513

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/05/world/iyw-mandela-charitable-legacy/

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/history.shtml

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46701&Cr=Mandela&Cr1=#.UqmoB-IvYYU

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46654&Cr=HIV&Cr1=AIDS#.Uqmvj-IvYYU

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46718&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=#.UqmwZuIvYYU

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46487&Cr=human+rights+council&Cr1=#.UqmxCuIvYYU

http://www.theguardian.com/world/blog/2013/dec/06/nelson-mandela-tributes-and-reaction-to-his-death-live-updates

http://www.un.org/en/events/mandeladay/

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46717&Cr=malaria&Cr1=#.Uqm-JOIvYYU

Photo: UN photo – Oliver Chassot

Refugees deserve our compassion and help, whether at home or abroad.

The recent tragedy of the Lampedusa refugee shipwreck has brought home to Europe the terrible risks that the refugees of the world are willing to take to escape their plight. More than 300 vulnerable individuals including many women and children died on this tragic day, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Jose Manuel Barroso said he was “profoundly shocked” by the sight of so many coffins and has pledged £25m of EU funds to help refugees in Italy. Barroso also called for the EU parliament to vote on a plan to launch Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols to intercept migrant boats. However, this must not become a pretext for increased border security to deny the legitimate entry into Europe of desperate refugees.

There has been a call from the UN for a more joined up approach by the European Union towards the issues of refugees. There was praise for Barroso’s call for increased focus on the search and rescue of migrant boats in the Mediterranean. It should not be surprising to those in Europe that refugees will risk everything to reach our shores when we look at the situation in some other refugee camps. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) continue to support some 420,000 Palestine refugees in Syria which is vital work. However, when refugees are killed within these camps due to the continuing armed conflict it is clear why many would rather take the challenging journey to Europe.

Another reason why many refugees would take these risks to get to Europe is the disproportionate impact on women and children. As Refugee International asserts “The stresses of displacement tend to lead to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence”. Women are at “greater risk, compounding existing discrimination”. As women are often the heads of households and the careers of children, children too suffer from the knock on effects as well as the direct effects of such discrimination. In Europe we have taken great strides (if not yet complete) to gender equality and the protection of children. It should be a cause of pride that so many are making their way to our shores. We must also be diligent not to forget internally displaced refugees especially those women and children and encourage the engagement by the refugee agencies and the international community in these troubled areas. Indeed the UNHCR works and supports the internally displaced individuals all over the world in dealing with their terrible situation.

The real issue is, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards has stated “that all available means [are] used to mitigate the root causes of flight in refugee producing countries”.  This is of course an incredibly complex and long term goal but one that must be tackled. There are a number of reasons that people are displaced, becoming refugees against their will. War is a major factor; poverty too is a key issue. The lack of basic human rights is also a reason many see Europe as a beacon of light worth almost any risk to get to. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said “It is critical that the international community engages further in improving the human rights situation on the ground, to address the root causes so that there is sufficient improvement that people will not feel the need to put their lives at risk by undertaking such dangerous journeys”.

Another, and increasing cause, is climate change and environment degradation and catastrophes. These include floods, droughts, rising seas, mud slides, water shortages, and many more. The climate change issue is perhaps the most difficult cause in the creation of refugees that the international community needs to resolve. However there are also events that we will never be able to control; earthquakes, storms and volcanic eruptions will always be with us. As such, this should inspire us to act against those causes we can control. We must do all we can to prevent war, poverty, human rights abuses and climate change and reduce the dire consequences for those caught up in their wake. Until then we have a moral responsibility and indeed a legal obligation to give aid to the world refugees, both those that make it to Europe and those that do not.

Michael Stagg

Sources

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24456058

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46261&Cr=Palestin&Cr1=#.UlwqkBAgp0U

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46249&Cr=migrants&Cr1=#.UlwsKBAgp0U

http://www.refintl.org/what-we-do/women-and-children

http://www.unhcr.org/521c85ea9.html

http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c1d9.html

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46186&Cr=Italy&Cr1=#.Ul0pChAgp0U

Jack Straw and the Iraq war, immoral, illegal, or both?

 File:Jack Straw 050519-D-9880W-029.jpg

Whatever your opinion on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war; that it was immoral, catastrophic and a humanitarian disaster; a price worth paying or the continuation of the imperial designs of global powers or necessary for global security, the question is, was it legal? More specifically, was Jack Straw complicit in an illegal act via the invasion of Iraq or via the UKs conduct during the occupation? This blog is concerned primarily with the legal case; morality is a personal and much more complicated matter that must come down to each person’s conscience.

The United Nations charter is very clear regarding the legality of the threat or use of force in international relations. Without a Security Council resolution it is illegal. The only exception is found in Article 51, the right to self-defence, but an ICJ (International Court of Justice) ruling found that an actual armed attack had to have occurred by one state against another to invoke this clause. There have been attempts to argue that pre-emptive strikes are legal but these are yet to be accepted as part of international law. As Iraq had not actually attacked the UK and that the pre-emptive doctrine is not widely accepted the only course left is via a Security Council resolution. Did the use of force against Iraq have such a resolution? The answer varies depending on one’s point of view as is the case with much in international law. The resolution most looked to is resolution 1441. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 offered Iraq under Saddam Hussein “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” that had been set out in several previous resolutions. Does this resolution allow for the use of force?

Those who argue that resolution 1441 sanctions the use of force mainly pin their hopes on the interpretation of the phrase “serious consequences”. It is reasonable to argue that, due to the extensive sanction regime that Iraq was under prior to the invasion it is hard to imagine what “serious consequences” could mean other than the use of force. As Jack Straw states, “Everyone knew what ‘serious consequences’ meant — war”. He continues by asserting that “Hard-nosed negotiators from Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Beijing knew full well its military consequences”.

However, the resolution specified the requirement for the Security Council to further deliberate on how to respond after the disarmament inspection team reported back. Paragraph 12 states the Council, “Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report [….] in order to consider the situation […]”. The phrase serious consequences appears in the next paragraph and only calls for the Security Council to see any material breach in the context, “that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations”. Therefore, even if “serious consequences” was understood by all to mean military action, resolution 1441 did not authorise it. As Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell argues, “in the event of non-compliance the United States [or the UK] is not automatically authorized to take unilateral military action […]”.

The need for a second resolution is implicit in 1441. This follow up resolution authorising these “serious consequences” never happened. Instead the invasion of Iraq went ahead with all its tragic consequences. All the more tragic if the statement of the Secretary-General is to be believed, that “Perhaps if we had persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully or – if not – the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case”.

The next Security Council resolution relating to Iraq was concerned not with invasion but with the occupying forces obligations under international humanitarian law. Resolution 1472 “Requests all parties concerned to strictly abide by their obligations under international law […] including those relating to the essential civilian needs of the people of Iraq […]”. Stating also that, “the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population […]”. As the Secretary-General requested “I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law”. These requirements were not accomplished by the occupying powers, as has often been noted; the invasion was a success, the occupation a disaster. Jack Straw himself accepts that, “the reconstruction programme was a shambles”.

It would seem reasonable by this admission and the harsh realities of occupied Iraq to conclude that the occupying forces did not achieve their international legal obligations regarding civilian care. It would also seem reasonable to conclude that the invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the Security Council and was therefore illegal. So it seems that we have two counts of illegal behaviour by the UK Government. As a prominent part of that Government with responsibility for foreign Affairs, and considering Jack Straw himself admitted, “I could have stopped us going to war in Iraq” he must accept some responsibility for these illegal acts. Indeed when facing the Iraq Inquiry Jack Straw stated “I made my choice. I have never backed away from it, and I do not intend to do so, and fully accept the responsibilities which flow from that”.  Finally, the moral case for and against the war, as with many moral questions, is a matter of opinion and personal conscience. Indeed in international as in domestic law morality and legality are not always in sync. However, in this case, in my opinion, they are. The Iraq war was both illegal and immoral.

Michael Stagg

Sources

http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml

Resolution 1441 (2002) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4644th meeting, on 8 November 2002

Resolution 1472 (2003) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4732nd meeting, on 28 March 2003

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2208155/Jack-Straw-I-stopped-going-war-Iraq-This-I-didnt.html

http://www.think-israel.org/piggott.selfdefence.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1441

http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forum/forumnew73.php

http://www.un.org/Depts/oip/cpmd/notices/SGstatement030320.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/blog/2010/jan/21/iraq-war-inquiry-iraq