What’s a war crime?

I know this is a blog about economic development, but I will digress for a moment.

What’s the deal with Iggy and war crimes?

I realize he’s an academic heavyweight – Ignatieff was ranked 37th on the list of top public intellectuals prepared by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines.

But the way he throws around the term, I guess I don’t really understand. I know there is a technical definition of what a ‘war crime’ is in international law but it seems to me when people use the term they do so in the context of the Congo, Sudan, Bosnia, Iraq, Cambodia, etc.

Having said that, I realize Louise Arbour, a top international law expert did say the Israelis may have committed war crimes -but she is not running for office.

Today, Iggy says the Israelis committed war crimes, so did Hezbollah, so did Don Cherry. If we start applying that term willy nilly to any conflict it will lose some of its significance, me thinks.

Anyway, I may have to pull my support of the Igster as Libby leader (given because he called the lack of regional development in Canada a war crime – oops – I meant a serious threat to national unity).

It seems to me that any politician so quick to throw around terms like that is liable to alienate large chunks of Canadian society and I really think we need national leaders that are about bringing some sense of togetherness to the most multicultural country in the world.

….but he is a fan of regional development….

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0 Responses to What’s a war crime?

  1. scott says:

    I’m with you David, Iggy is wrong.

    Put it this way, if Canada started firing rockets across the border at the United States, would that not be an act of hostility and war?

    I would largely think that the US would have no other alternative but to retaliate as inaction would put the safety of their citizens in dire jeoparty.

    Israel had the right to defend itself, how is that a war rime?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just go to wikipedia for a starter on ‘war crimes’. Call this the ‘dumbization’ of the public by either their laziness or the media, but the final question above shows just how little the average people understand such things. And of course if they don’t understand, why would anybody listen or care?

    The germans claimed jews were responsible for setting fire to the Reichstag, so by that thinking “they had a right to defend themselves, how is that a war crime?”

    As the above shows, the reality is far different than the dumbed down media stories and pundits.

  3. Spinks says:

    It’s right up there with the other “liberal” overuse of terms like bigot and racist. When you use these types of phrases for EVERYTHING (the goal really is just to shut your opposition up), the terms lose their meaning. All the Liberals are doing is ensuring a Conservative majority next time. Harper shouldn’t have even bothered wading into this. You know the saying about giving a person enough rope what they’ll do with it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Saying Israel commits war crimes is like saying the pope is catholic. That hardly seems like an overuse of the word. Just because you think it should only be used in ways that don’t make americans or their allies complicit in war crimes doesn’t make it an overuse.

    In case you didn’t know, Canada is complicit in a number of war crimes, bosnia is one of them. Canadian pilots and military leaders cannot go to baltic states because they will be arrested for war crimes.

    That’s reality. No national government is wearing a white hat here.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a fairly biased but essentially accurate report from the Times online. When the New York Times is saying it, whether Don Cherry agrees or not, at least we know the thread has legs.

    Analysis: could Israel face war crimes charges?
    By Michael Herman, Times Online Law Reporter

    A UN warning that Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon may constitute war crimes has legal legs – but with the issue as much about politics as law prosecutions are unlikely anytime soon, analysts say.

    With reports of at least 300, mostly non-combatant, deaths in Lebanon during several days of air and artillery strikes, Louise Arbor, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said that certain Israeli actions constituted “foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians” – illegal under international law.

    Daniel Machover, a London-based human rights lawyer involved in the attempted prosecution of Israeli personnel for alleged war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, agreed that reports about the number of civilian deaths and the extent of damage to civilian areas mean that Ms Arbor has “a very, very strong point”.

    International law on war crimes raises the prospect that individuals can be held criminally liable for military action. As Ms Arbor pointed out, such liability is not restricted to the military, but extends to politicians who approve their operations.

    “In principle a whole range of people from the Israeli Prime Minister, through senior generals down to air force or artillery gunners could be guilty of war crimes,” Mr Machover said.

    International law classes a wide range of activities under the umbrella of war crimes, but the current focus is Israel’s aerial bombardment of Lebanon, where reports of civilian deaths in recent days include a family killed in their car while attempting to escape an area under sustained Israeli attack.

    International law prohibits armies from: “Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects…which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.”

    Professor Iain Scobbie, a member of the law faculty at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said that international law would allow individual Israelis to be held liable, if proven, for breaching these requirements.

    Israeli Government representatives insist that all air strikes are subject to proper assessments and commanders are ordered to abort attacks that are deemed to carry unacceptable civilian risks. There is also the possibility that civilians could be killed as a result of stray Hezbollah rockets or gunfire.

    Mr Machover said that in order for a war crimes prosecution to be initiated, very detailed investigations into exactly which targets were hit, when and by whom would be needed. If there is sufficient evidence then independent military experts can be called to give opinions on whether the attacks were justified.

    Aside from the difficulty of collecting reliable evidence from a war zone, Mr Machover warned of the ever-present political dimension in war crimes cases.

    Israel has not ratified the Treaty of Rome, which limits the scope for war crimes prosecutions against its soldiers, but two options remain. The United Nations can convene an ad-hoc war crimes tribunal, as it did to try Slobodan Milosovic, but is very unlikely to do so long as America continues to support Israel’s military action in Lebanon and holds a UN veto, according to Mr Machover.

    This leaves scope for individual countries to bring war crimes prosecutions in their national courts under their own laws. But with senior Israeli generals and politicians wary of traveling to certain countries and extradition unheard of, this remains a highly unlikely prospect.

    With war crimes accusations flying at Israel, lawyers point out that Hezbollah, the Lebanese group whose kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the current crisis, is not exempt from international law and so not immune to prosecutions.

    The legal rules are more complex, and prosecutions even less likely, but Hezbollah’s kidnappings and rocket attacks put it in breach of both The Geneva Convention and its subsequent amendments. Another possibility, albeit extremely unlikely, are straightforward homicide charges against Hezbollah leaders.