By means of exclusion and misinformation, when in power Tony Blair and his executive not only demonstrated contempt for democracy in unconstitutionally denying both Cabinet and Parliament effective decision making in relation to wars which were illegal, but also for international law.
War Crimes in Serbia
On 24th March, 1999, Britain and the United States led NATO’s Operation Allied Force against the ex-Yugoslav republic of Serbia, in which over one thousand aircraft bombed extensively for 78 nights using munitions that included cluster, depleted uranium and carbon fibre bombs. Half of all the British bombs were cluster bombs and killed between ninety and 150 people, with between 4,000 and 10,000 unexploded bomblets left primed to kill later.
On the eve of the air attack, Tony Blair blatantly misrepresented the necessity for war in the House of Commons, in these terms: “We must act: to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe, from death, barbarism and ethnic cleansing by a brutal dictatorship; to save the stability of the Balkan region, where we know chaos can engulf all of Europe.” Blair spun the impending attack on Serbia as being part of his ‘ethical foreign policy’ aimed at curbing “Milosevic’s ability to wage war on an innocent civilian population” in Kosovo and to “prevent an impending humanitarian disaster”.
At the Rambouillet peace talks convened in France, the US backed by Britain, insisted on unimpeded military occupation by NATO and, in so doing, placed impossible demands on Milosevic. All potential peace deals were ignored or dismissed and the bar was deliberately set far too high for the Serbs to comply, so that the bombing would be seen to be justified. This ploy was made more evident by the fact that, when the bombing had been completed, NATO settled for much less than it had demanded at the outset. Furthermore, when, after the bombing, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) murdered or ‘disappeared’ around one thousand Serbs and Roma, and 210,000 Serbs were forced to flee Kosovo because of the systematic burning and looting of their homes, NATO offered no ‘humanitarian’ intervention, despite the presence of thousands of NATO troops on the ground. Nevertheless, ‘humanitarianism’ had been used as a successful pretext for the war that was illegal under international law, (jus ad bellum) through having not been authorised by the UN Security Council and by being in violation of Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
NATO’s modus operandi for the offensive actually violated international humanitarian law (jus in bello) in that cluster bombs were used near populated areas, non-military infrastucture was destroyed, wilful killing was conducted, and adequate precautions to minimise civilian casualties were not taken. The destruction of bridges, roads, railway stations, airports, hospitals, television transmitters, schools, factories, homes, and religious shrines and monasteries, was extensive and aimed at, in clear violation of international law, applying Serbian civilian pressure on Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo. Yugoslav NGOs confirmed that the deadly bombing also damaged the good relations that had been painstakingly developed between Serb and Albanian civil society groups working for non-violence.
The claim that the pulverising of Serbia would halt ‘ethnic cleansing’ was shown to be entirely false, as post-war NATO sources show that two thousand people died in Kosovo prior to the bombing (also confirmed by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook), while eight thousand died subsequently because the bombing spurred on both the forceful displacement of ethnic Albanians, and the brutal conflict between Yugoslav forces and the KLA. Indeed, the crimes listed by the Hague war crimes tribunal as committed by Milosevic, all happened after NATO’s bombing commenced.
According to US diplomat Norma Brown, an aide to the Director of the Observer Mission in Kosovo, “there was no humanitarian crisis [in Kosovo] until NATO began to bomb …. Everyone knew that a humanitarian crisis would arise if NATO started to bomb.” This expectation was confirmed by NATO Commander General Wesley Clark after the first three nights of bombing. He later revealed that, “[The NATO operation] was not designed as a means of waging war against the Serb forces in Kosovo.” The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged this line of causation and the Defence Committee was critical of the government for misrepresenting to the British public that air power was the only way to prevent humanitarian disaster.
Although at the time, much of the British press was duped, the war was in fact part of the battle, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, for political influence aimed at bolstering NATO’s ‘credibility’ as a force to be reckoned with, extending NATO eastwards, bringing eastern Europe into the free-market fold and eradicating a Slavic-communist regime that risked being non-aligned or subject to Russian influence. The war was not at all humanitarian in nature.
War Crimes in Iraq
Using various artifices, Tony Blair demonstrated contempt for democracy in unconstitutionally excluding both Cabinet and Parliament from effective decision making in respect of the Iraq war (which both David Cameron and Gordon Brown backed – hence the continuing obfuscation). There is more than a prima facie case that he committed war crimes, crimes that the International Criminal Court can investigate if it receives a complaint into alleged offences carried out by, or on the territory of, a state that is party to the Rome agreement which established the Court, to which Britain is a signatory. In the interests of global security and justice, the trial of Tony Blair is essential to help assert the much-needed ascendancy of the law internationally. Impunity, as defined by Diane F. Orentlicher, professor of law at American University, involves a ‘failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those respected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried, and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations’.
“Apart from the human cost, the [Iraq] war has galvanised Islamic extremism; destroyed the infrastructure and basic services of the country; providing a fertile breeding and recruitment ground for terrorists; exacerbated the religious divisions of the country; created extreme instability fomenting a civil war; inflamed hatred of the West; rendered Iraq receptive to Iranian fundamental influence; resulted in a higher level of torture than in the days of Saddam Hussein; placed the armed forces in a no-win situation without any real prospect of emerging from Iraq with a semblance of military honour; provided a diversion from what should have been a primary task of dealing with the real threat, Al Qaeda; diverted a massive amount of money which could have been more profitably expended in more directly confronting that organisation and threatened terrorist activity; ….. and, in all, made the world a less safe place for decades to come if not the remainder of this century.”
“Most importantly, [Blair’s] assertion of executive power and the consequential erosion of human rights weakens the democratic process and undermines the very values on which democracy is founded. It not only diminishes those values but can bring them into disrepute. There is the real risk that, once individual freedoms are set aside, they will never be regained”.
“The rule of law is being redefined, not by the judiciary, but by the executive. Loss of respect for habeas corpus and the rights of suspects and detainees runs counter to the basic ideal of the dignity and worth of the individual person which is the bedrock of the rule of law.”
“Tony Blair, in foreign policy, exerted unbridled and unchecked power to pursue his personal vision. When that vision was threatened he was able to manipulate the political process to his own ends.”
The above quotes are from Judge E. W. Thomas, Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, in 2007.
The executive branch of the government has responsibility for the daily administration of the state, including enforcing, rather than flouting, the law as written by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary.
Tony Blair’s reluctance to comply with international law is now evidenced in David Cameron. Until mid-October, 2015, the ministerial code referred to an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice”; but the latest version simply refers to a duty to comply with “the law”.