Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Suicide Bombing - Crime against Humanity?
by Mary Rizzo
The presentation of the Parliamentary Motion in the Italian Senate which aims at classifying suicide bombing as a crime against humanity has followed an interesting bureaucratic course. It started as an observation by the Human Rights Watch, then had become the campaign of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and now, is finding its way into the international forum by way of a European government proceeding. All of this, in the hopes of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, is just the prelude to the formal presentation of the motion by a European country to the United Nations itself. The Centre has been on the lookout for some State, any State, (preferably not the United States for questions of expediency), to assume the responsibility of this call to broaden the list of crimes against humanity. It is the belief of the Centre that the "tyranny of the majority" of the UN is actually the essence of the problem in promoting such an initiative. It would never pass if it looked like it was really about what it is about, undermining the image of Arab resistance to occupation while weakening the structure of Palestinian administration.
What would be the outcome of this shift in consideration of a terrible act of terrorism into a crime against humanity? In the first place, it would remove it from the sphere of conflict limited to a specific area and specific purpose and create the internationalisation of the affair. In international law, crimes, murder and acts of violence of various nature are ideally dealt with by undertaking criminal investigation. This means that the burden of assuring that justice prevails, and that exclusively those suspected of committing a crime stand trial and are punished if the evidence demonstrates that they are guilty, falls solely upon the injured party or the State which represents it. With crimes that fall into the category of crimes against humanity, this burden no longer exists. In fact, the victim of the crime is exempt from the obligation of investigation and merely assumes the role of accusation. The statute of limitations is removed as are elements of contingency and justification. The perspective in which this crime has developed is completely de-contextualised. It stands alone without any history behind it, or any meaning whatsoever. It is condemned to remain a mysterious division between "the culture of life" and "the culture of death".
This sort of arrangement is very convenient for Israel, as it refuses to undertake criminal investigation, opting for the more rapid and less troublesome solution of immediate retaliation. Israel has consistently ignored the burden of creating a case providing evidence to bring those it suspects to trial. As far as I know, only Barghouti has had the courtesy of being charged and subsequently facing the courts of justice for terrorism. Others have not had such luck. Yassin, Rantissi and dozens of others have been assassinated, which, in any court of law is considered to be a serious criminal act. Notwithstanding the fact that accompanying them on their journey out of this world, were their families, neighbours and others who were guilty of the crime of living in the wrong open air prison. Retaliation itself is considered unlawful in international jurisdiction, and it is aggravated by that fact that it is virtually impossible to avoid harming innocent people in the process. Blowing oneself up in a crowded street is a horrible crime. Dropping a 10 tonne bomb on a sleeping city, a crowded intersection or a marketplace does nothing to spare the lives of civilians, and is in itself a ferocious action of systematic State terrorism against an entire population. Israel might be getting tired of this system and wants to lose the status of pariah state that such actions cause in the international public opinion. Thus, releasing any culpability for neglecting to fulfil the obligations of investigation and trial by shifting it to the international arena would make for astute political gain.
But more important of a gain would be that of eliminating the political symbolism of the act of suicide bombing. As it currently stands, the person who undertakes the mission of destroying himself while at the same time destroying other lives, is not acting out of hatred of a people, but of a system. The Shahidi is operating under the impression that he or she is committing an act that will rectify or at least in some way serve as a loudspeaker to an enormous injustice that is being endured. It is not the worship of some "death cult" as stated in the document of the Italian Senators, literally copied almost word for word from the press release of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre http://www.wiesenthal.com/mailings_swc/swc_dec0903.htm, but rather, it is an act which seeks to in some way bring attention to and to cause a change in the system which is oppressing the fellow members of the community of the suicide bomber.
The question that arises from this would be, "Is there a moral or political justification for such acts?" The answer which immediately comes to the minds of those who are interested in the pacific resolution of the crisis which is at the core of these violent acts is, "No! They can't be justified." The loss of innocent life is always a tragedy. The utilisation of suicide bombing can be considered to be inhumane, as well as ineffective. But, the problem is not the nature of the crime, rather, is this crime capable of being justified by those who undertake it, or is it a resignation to the "death cult" which is mentioned in these documents, therefore removing it from a justifiable political arena ?
Not all suicide bombers are driven by religious motivation, although some are. Yet, all of them are driven by the certainty that their people are the victims of oppression. Many of the suicide bombers happen to be in nations that have been living under foreign occupation, and have seen the results of extremely violent military aggression against unarmed people in their communities. In their eyes, the loss of their own lives only gains context if it is considered as a weapon against others. They see it as a form of resistance. Are we entitled to judge whether or not it is more legitimate to devastate a village and destroy the homes and lives of innocent people in the search for suspects or to run towards a checkpoint with the intention of killing and at the same time take one's own life? All of these acts are heinous, and it is a common trap to attempt to make those who oppose a repressive regime justify suicide bombing. The tragic nature of these acts is not in question. What is however, being transformed is the symbolic nature, and therefore, its political meaning.
Differing from acts of arbitrary violence, such as drive by killings and serial murder, the suicide bomber is equipped with an attitude. Most of those in his group may not approve of his methods, for whatever reasons, but it is difficult to imagine that they do not comprehend the ideological significance of his act. It is not targeted against people, but against a symbol. This may be hard to comprehend for those who do not recognise the community approval on a moral basis of the cause itself. To eliminate the crime, the cause has got to be addressed. Removing contingency and justification does not move towards viewing the situation from the eyes of the perpetrator and the group he intends upon representing and addressing the cause of these acts. And, that is the very goal of internationalising the problem and eliminating the statutes of limitations, and other guarantees. Persons living under occupation, who have no strong operative legal structures of their own should welcome such an opportunity to present their grievances in an international court of law. But, the development of this juridical situation would neither serve as deterrent nor would it provide true justice. It presents the oppressor as the sole victim.
It is natural that injured parties, the families and the States that represent them seek justice for the loss of their loved ones, for the loss of a sense of security that they need to live a healthy existence. Many of these parties do actually seek justice. They would want the criminal to stand trial. Others only are interested in revenge, vendetta, which is a perfectly human reaction. When tragedy strikes, people react in desperate ways and often want to take justice in their own hands. States should be beyond this law of the jungle, though, and Israel, the coalition nations in Iraq, the United States in Afghanistan, the Russians in Chechenya and many other examples, defy this basic code of international legality.
The Israeli government conducts massive operations of house demolitions in the aftermath of a strike. Regular praxis is curfew, raids and round-ups, arrest without charge, occupation of buildings in strategic position as lookout posts, withholding of foodstuffs, detention at checkpoints and firing on demonstrations. All of these are acts that are in violation of international law. None of this has had court follow up. The atrocities committed against the Palestinians are just "business as usual".
Following the tragic events of 11 September, rather than undertake investigation and seek to bring justice through law, the use of force by the United States military was adopted. Thousands of innocent Afghani victims have been killed because they had the enormous misfortune of being born in Afghanistan. They had the enormous misfortune of being ruled by the tyrannical Talibans, and they paid for it with their lives. The Iraqi population has been paying for decades now for the misfortune of being Iraqis under Saddam. The United States is seeking justice there too, but not in the courts of law. Thousands of innocent victims are the result of an illegal "liberation" that has become an illegal occupation. It is not difficult to recognise that large segments of the population have suffered from this aggression and believe that they must resist. Resistance takes many forms, and all acts of resistance can not be classified as terrorism, just as all acts of terrorism can not be classified as resistance. Time will dictate what approach has been the wisest, but meanwhile, the violence only escalates, because resolution of the cause is being avoided.
There must be a widespread impression in the Arab world that the courts don't exist. If they are starting to do so, they are only formed as a way to institutionalise the cultural clash (Western impression) and injustice (Arab impression), and not as an instrument used to achieve justice. And, what kind of justice can the families of the victims of the suicide bomber hope for? If justice means that the perpetrator of the crime is punished, it seems clearly obvious that this person has already paid the highest price imaginable, and can no longer stand trial and face the death sentence. The sentence has been meted out. Yet, in order to achieve some political gain from this event, while avoiding the necessity of resolution of the cause, the groups who claim responsibility are attacked militarily while those who legally assume responsibility for the crime are the government or those in authority who are held accountable. It is not necessary to demonstrate that they even played an active part. As a matter of fact, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, while endorsing the principle of suicide bombing being changed to a crime against humanity, in the case of Palestine failed to find evidence that the government was either accomplice to these acts or able to exercise effective control over the groups. Yet, those in authority would be held accountable for failing to take preventive action for failing to punish the perpetrators. Even if they condemned the acts of violence, they would have to stand trial as the defendant.
In the case of Palestine, the ultimate irony would be created: the State of Israel, whose policies of oppression are the cause of these acts, would be viewed in this court as the victim of this system, and the Palestinian government as the aggressor.
BERLUSCONI, THE UN AND THE WIESENTHAL CENTRE
The idea that the Californian centre is undertaking was begun at the end of last year by a group of American academics: Berlusconi could be the right leader to present it within a few days at the General Assembly of the UN in a short resolution consisting of three paragraphs to declare that suicide bombs are a crime against humanity.
The desire of Rabbi Abraham Cooper, for almost thirty years right arm of Simon Wiesenthal at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre of Los Angeles is very simple. Berlusconi, he explains, could be the right leader to present within a few days at the General Assembly of the UN a short resolution of three paragraphs to declare that suicide bombs are a crime against humanity. "We are in need of" he says, "a country that takes the initiative in order to set the process in motion".
The idea that the Californian centre has undertaken was begun at the end of last year by a group of American academics. Since December, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish organisation established to assure justice to the Nazi criminals, has made it officially one of its battles.
"Our reason is double," explains Rabbi Cooper, "the first is an act of solidarity on behalf of all countries with the affirmation that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable and criminal. The second is to give to the victims, to their families and even to States a legal mechanism to prosecute whoever promotes these actions".
"International law, as it is now", stresses the Rabbi, "is directed against those groups who can be legally linked to governments that sponsor them. But this, in the current situation, is no longer the case. It is not the way Al Qaeda operates, nor of those sheiks who send their message throughout the world from Qatar via internet or Al Jazeera. Yet it is they who are creating the culture of hate", he says.
To promote the initiative, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, has been actively moving now for months, its representatives have met the Pope in Vatican, the representative of the European Union, Xavier Solana, the Foreign Affairs ministers of 18 different nations.
"The Pope acted very quickly and he has been very useful", says Abraham Cooper, "we met him, I believe, at the beginning of December and that same day he received in Vatican a group of Christians and Muslims and told them in very simple terms that this type of action could not be justified invoking the name of God".
In almost a year, however, the road towards a UN resolution has run into a series of obstacles that are as ambiguous and evasive as they are difficult to overcome.
"That which we need is a State. We tried in Latin America, we are in contact with Turkey, the Prime Minister has just written us, we have written even to Bush and Kerry, even if we don't believe that the United States are the right nation, Turkey or a European nation would be better. We hoped, considering also that numerous victims are Muslims, that something would have moved, but so far it hasn't happened", the Rabbi admits. "There has to be political will, the determination to trace a line. On the other hand, after that which has happened in Russia, if the international community doesn't find an agreement when it meets in several days in the UN, that means that we are headed at great speed to a new obscurantism".
Keeping the hands of the international community tied, in the opinion of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, is especially that which Cooper defines as "the tyranny of the majority" within the United Nations Building. The perception, in other words, that the block of the Islamic nations will end up blocking the idea. "I don't think that's the right perception," asserts the Rabbi, "only that in the past few days a significant part of the Arab public opinion has made a stance against that which has happened in the Russian school. And then this question has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The crime had its beginning in Sri Lanka and now it is meting out even more Muslim victims in the world". The solution, therefore, could come from an Italy indignant and courageous. "If Berlusconi or another important Italian politician could raise the question, even from behind the scenes, it could succeed in giving for the first time a legal arm to the victims of terrorism. Or it could take the word to the UN or to the EU. It would take only three minutes to present a resolution just three paragraphs long." That is the hope of Abraham Cooper.
ITALIAN PARLIMENTARY MOTION
the horror of a terrorist violence without precedent in history has imposed, correctly or incorrectly, the expression, "Kamikaze Terrorism";
in the opinion of Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1986, founder of the "Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity", differently from the Japanese soldiers who, at the end of the second World War, choosing to sacrifice themselves attacking strictly military objectives, the suicide terrorist of our times prefers to attack helpless civilians, unarmed children, defenceless women, with the goal of feeding in the individual conscience and that of the masses, an absolute counter-position, in many ways more than racist, regarding the "enemy-infidel" and to determine the dishumanisation of the entirety of the world's conflicts;
its goal, therefore, is to kill and to massacre, to die while killing is better, to practice the cult of death, to live one's own desperation or even one's own hopes only in death, adored as one's own God, the God of death;
some figures at the summit of the terrorist aggregations (Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Army of Iraq and so forth) approve, promote and exalt the realisation of such mass homicides, not hesitating to accredit to them the value also and above all to the standard of an interpretation which is hateful and distorted of some sacred texts;
in particular - notwithstanding that the Muslim community, in its generality, as has emerged in a document recently complimented by the President of the Republic, has always shown itself to refuse every form of violence and fanaticism - a growing number of persons, often very young, are induced to rethink the Koranic commandments in the light of the mystique of suicide terrorism, in such extraneous to the Koran and to Islam;
added without a doubt in this disquieting prospective are the most sanguinary terrorist attacks perpetrated in the world in the recent past years: from the enormous tragedy of New York and Washington of 11 September 2001, up until the very serious strikes accomplished in various localities of the State of Israel, Russia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Iraq, and the strikes of Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Jakarta;
even our nation has been tremendously hit by this vile practice of death, in such that last 12 November, four suicide bombers aboard two vehicles packed with explosives devastated the buildings which housed the Italian military contingent present at Nassiriya, in Iraq, killing 19 of our fellow countrymen: fifteen State Police, two soldiers of the Army and two civilians working in humanitarian activities;
the incessant series of terrorist strikes which have been undertaken, even in Europe, by cells which are traceable to the Al Qaeda signature confirms - such as is stressed in the last "Report on informational politics and on security", regarding the first semester of 2004, presented in Parliament by our Intelligence apparatus last 30 July - "realisation and actuality of the threat related to the activity of International Jihadism" (page 13);
authoritative institutional subjects have for a long time addressed a strong call to the international organisms and to the single governments so that, in the respect of human rights, more incisive instruments are adopted for the immediate contrast to international terrorism and, specifically, so that the international community works towards interrupting the sanguinary series of suicide strikes of a terrorist matrix;
the situation of political paralysis which has been registered, during the Iraq crisis, within the UN Security Council has fed into the sensation of a credibility gap in the UN;
the divisions which have been produced at that time in Europe have on the other hand contributed to reinforce that American unilateralism, which is denounced as unfit;
a firm warning against terrorism was significantly pronounced by His Holy Father Pope John Paul II who, on several occasions, has affirmed that "whoever kills with terrorist acts cultivates sentiments of contempt towards humanity, manifests desperation regarding life and the future" (Message of Pope John Paul II for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2002);
in this same prospective, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, for decades committed to the promotion of religious tolerance and for the struggle against anti-Semitism, has become the explicit promoter of a campaign of mobilisation so that the international community recognises suicide strikes of a terrorist matrix as configuring as a true "crime against humanity";
adhering to this appeal, in our nation at this time, by initiative of the newspaper "Il Riformista" exponents of culture and journalism of various political collocations, as well as diverse secular and religious associations and organisations (Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, ACLI, Legambiente, Movimento dei Focolarini, Comunità di Sant'Egidio, Focsiv);
as such, it is not comprehensible how the Parliament and the Italian government can remain indifferent to such a solicitation of public opinion that is so vast and significant;
The suicide strikes of a terrorist matrix integrate criminal conduct which offends the international community in the patrimony of values which are universally shared, upon which it is founded and which it cannot be consented to abdicate;
Such practice of death presupposes an evident lesion of the most elementary human rights and of international juridical order, bringing about intolerable violations of the "general principles of rights recognised by civilised nations" (art. 38, paragraph I, lett. C, of the Statute of the International Court of Justice of the UN) under which human life finds universal tutelage;
the Statute of the International Penal Court (approved with the Treaty of Rome on 17 July 1998) has signalled an important aim in the historical process of juridical determination of the concept of crimes against humanity as a category separate from others, affirmed by more than half a century as part of consuetudinary international law, such crimes that are comprised of the so-called jus cogens;
these constitute a thus intransgressible norm, subject to universal jurisdiction, so that all States have the duty to make the guilty stand trial or to extradite them, independently of the nationality of the guilty or the place where the crime was committed;
the norms of guarantee are not in vigour for political crimes nor those norms on prescription, on immunity or justifications;
such a Statute has nevertheless not expressly pronounced the inclusion in such a category as acts such as those of terrorism, for contingent contractual reasons of political-diplomatic nature;
such contractual reasons, although respectable, are however, contingent;
even by the same standards of that which was solemnly sanctioned by the Statute of the International Penal Court, it must be convened that the suicide strikes of terrorist matrix constitute "crimes against humanity" in so far as they are knowingly committed "as part of an extended or systematic attack directed against civilian populations" (art. 7, paragraph I, Statute of the International Penal Court) which takes place through the reiterated killing of helpless civilians, "in execution or in ulterior actuation of the political design of (.) an organisation having as its objective such an attack" (art. 7, Constitutional Elements of the Crimes Adopted, ex art. 9, paragraph I, of the Statute of Rome, from the Assembly of the Partner States at New York on 8 September 2002);
further, the "norms of closure" contained in letter k of the mentioned article 7 of the Statute of the International Penal Court include, among crimes against humanity, "other inhuman acts of analogous character directed at intentionally provoking great suffering or great damages to the physical integrity or physical or mental health".
commitment of the Government
to research new agreements, in European spheres and among all the interested States, suitable to reinforce the initiatives of battle against terrorist violence, favouring in particular the perfection of operative instruments and of the apparatus of contrast as well as the homogenisation of the national and international norms which in this very delicate material reveal themselves to be, still today in many senses, lacunose and ineffective;
to work through the General Assembly of the United Nations so that as soon as possible, in a clear and unequivocal form, it is recognised that even terrorist action perpetrated through suicide strikes constitutes, to all effects of international dispositions in force, a very serious and imprescriptible "crime against humanity", of which the leaders of the States and the aggregations who have promoted or favoured the enactment must respond before the international judicial organisms to which is entrusted the repression of universal crimes.
Sen. Luigi Compagna
Sen. Giorgio Tonini
Rome, 13 September 2004.