2011-02-19 Libya, Bahrain & others: Crimes against humanity, what can we do?

The world watches in horror as peaceful protesters particularly in Libya and Bahrain (but also in Iraq and elsewhere) are attacked by police or military forces using live ammunition. Even worse, in Bahrain, firstly at the Pearl Roundabout, not only did those armed forces prevent many injured from being removed from the streets for medical attention, they beat up the paramedics attempting to remove those injured. Here are graphic videos at Wikileaks Central the first of which is another Bahrani incident, (horrific scenes of dead and dying).

There are other incidents not necessarily confirmed but wholly consistent with orders for security forces to use extreme force and deny medical attention to the wounded, including removing the injured from hospital.

In Libya, Human Rights Watch reports at least 84 dead in several cities:

Muammar Gaddafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability. Libyan authorities should allow peaceful protesters to have their say.

The shootings of peaceful protesters and prevention of medical attention are of course all crimes against humanity. The leaders of those two nations at least have established themselves as pariahs and it’s not a question of much more proof required: the proof we do have is indisputable, in living colour on our computers from YouTube and Al Jazeera among others, etched into our minds and onto the records hopefully for future prosecutorial purposes .

We cannot of course expect justice anytime soon for political reasons which are palpably obvious: the need of the US to maintain the naval base for its 5th Fleet in Bahrain and to “contain” Iran.

There are also the concerns of the Saudi kingdom to keep their own Shia minority population from likewise staging protests and all the while those nervous Sunni Saudi eyes are looking across that narrow stretch of water to the Shia run regional powerhouse next door, a newly acquired regional power given on a platter by the USA to Iran through the ill advised and ill conceived Iraq war.

Keeping the Bahrani status quo is all about the Gulf states' united front in opposition to Iran.

The elements of a crime against humanity are not complex, any member state who has ratified the Treaty of Rome for the International Criminal Court (not Bahrain nor Libya) will have something very close to this in their domestic legislation:

268.8 Crime against humanity--murder
A person (the perpetrator ) commits an offence if:
(a) the perpetrator causes the death of one or more persons; and
(b) the perpetrator's conduct is committed intentionally or knowingly as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
Penalty: Imprisonment for life.

For once some law that is simple, concise and easily understood.

The principles of command responsibility make for a case to be answered by all those in the chain of command downwards from Gaddafi in the case of Libya, and downwards from the self proclaimed King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Again, and so soon after the Egyptian revolution, the United States is in an identical quandry, mildly remonstrating with the use of lethal force but without a shadow of doubt hoping for the status quo to be maintained in Bahrain:

The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur.

More a pious platitude than something that would have an effect, like say a threat to set up a special tribunal to prosecute for crimes against humanity through the United Nations.

In the case of Libya, there will be no tears in the West for the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi, only some angst at another oil producer likely falling further outside the influence of US foreign policy.

Note that the reported lynching by protestors of Gaddafi’s mercenaries is not a crime against humanity as the victims are not a “civilian population”. If the fighting was classified as a civil war it could be a war crime, otherwise it’s simple domestic law murder. Either way it too has to be condemned, utterly.

So, what can we as world citizens do in the face of such blatant crimes? Well for a start we can put pressure on our governments to declare them in advance persona non grata whenever they travel officially or otherwise and liable to prosecution, thanks to the evolution of customary international law being much less inclined to continue with sovereign immunity for war crimes/crimes against humanity.

We can watch as Anonymous takes down their websites, there is some vicarious pleasure in that which is not unlawful.

If, as is probable, they are overthrown by their own people and obtain sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, we can support Saudis agitating for democratic freedoms.

Because it is then, upon a revolution in Saudi Arabia, the last highly significant Arab domino to fall which supports US interests in the middle east, that all the other fallen dictators residing there will have no other bolthole remaining to keep them safe from international law, with the possible exception of North Korea and that other legal black hole where international law is well known rarely to apply, ie Guantanamo Bay.

We can urge weapon supplying nations to stop supplying dictatorships with arms and training, too little too late for the UK in relation to their supply to Bahrain and Libya.

We can make ourselves less dependent on middle east oil.

We can remind our leaders constantly who the pariahs are that have cases to answer for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

We can increase support to whistleblowers such as Wikileaks who have a record of exposing abusers of human rights.

We can increase support for international human rights organisations and advocacy of human rights to educate and ultimately to assist prosecute abusers.