Fara í efni


Hinn níunda nóvember, þegar menn minntust þess að 30 ár væru liðin frá falli Berlínarmúrsins, flutti ég erindi á ráðstefnu sem Institute of Cultural Diplomacy, ICD, efndi til í Berlín. Í erindinu vék ég að frelsinu sem menn fögnuðu fyrir 30 árum – tjáningarfrelsi, frelsi til frjálsrar farar … og spurði hvar við værum nú stödd í því samhengi. Hvað segja menn til dæmis um aðförina að Julian Assange og Wikileaks? ...


The world has changed in the course of the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and these changes have affected the whole world community. In some areas, however, we are still living in the old order.

My generation was born in between wars. I was born in 1948, soon after the close of the Second World War and at the outset of a new war, The Cold war.

In this interim period the United Nations came into being, replacing the League of Nations, which had been democratic in structure but lacking in support of the great military powers. The UN power structure was meant to remedy this by having a Security Council giving the superpowers a deciding role; in other words, a governing structure was established where the biggest stakeholders held the real reins of power with a right to veto democratic decisions reached by the UN Assembly.
Ambitions and expectations were high at the time and this was reflected in a progressive UN Charter with its strong call for the respect of human rights.  There was also determination to face with justice any violation of human rights, not to speak of genocide. The first steps were promising.  Following the Nüremberg trials in 1945-1946, the Genocide Convention was   adopted and the International Court was established, indeed built on the foundation of a former court of arbitration.

In short, in this interim period between wars, we ended up with an international order based on democratic aspirations, but nevertheless under the heel of the Great Powers. What had been lacking in the League of Nations was overcompensated in the United Nations. With hindsight we now can say that such a structure was bound to fall victim to the geopolitical realities of the 20th century and the Cold War in particular.

And this, indeed, is what happened. For decades, the United Nations, in effect, absolved itself from any responsibility in the realm of the most vile human rights violations, genocide included. Decades passed without any international trials of war criminals and those guilty of taking part in genocides.  During the Cold War, the absurdity of the situation became so pronounced that none of the mass killings from the 1950s until the late 1980s were denounced by the UN as genocides. Many terrible examples of atrocities could be mentioned, such as the Cambodian genocide or the mass killings in East Timor, when the world turned a blind eye to the wipe-out of an estimated one-third of the island´s population by the Indonesian army.  In other words, after codifying its condemnation of genocide in a convention in 1948 and with its ratification in 1951, the UN or the international community, in practice, condoned genocide. 

It was not until the 1990s, when the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and its counterpart for Rwanda (ICTR) that the Genocide Convention was revived as an instrument of international justice.  And the first time that the 1948 law was enforced was with the 1998 genocide convictions of Rwandan political leaders. While Serbia was cleared of direct involvement in genocide during the Bosnian war by the International Court of Justice it was ruled that Belgrade breached international law by failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. And the ICTY was to look into individual responsibility here.  
But what about other offenders? There was also direct involvement in the war from outside former Yugoslav territory, namely by NATO forces and here there were allegations raised of war crimes having been committed. The world remembers the NATO air-attacks on Belgrade during the spring and summer of 1999 where not only military but also civilian institutions came under attack. But the Tribunal on Yugoslavia never showed any willingness to deal with these and indeed it was not allowed to because its role was clearly limited only to deal with perpetrators from inside former Yugoslavia and in fact it was from the start directed towards certain forces and individuals. In other words, NATO was guaranteed impunity.
The rule of law? Hardly.

Part of the development in those years was the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which came into force in 2002. This was seen by many as a sign of opening after the end of the Cold War. It soon emerged, however, that some of the Great Powers would not – and still do not - recognize its jurisdiction, such as the United States, China, India, and Russia, undermining its authority and claim of universality. 

So, from an early stage, the chilly feeling set in that the new order was meant to deal with losers not victors, bloody as the latters’ hands might be. On top of this we still had the problem of individual Security Council members blocking measures not to their liking. Thus, the United States still prevents any punitive measures against Israel in spite of UN resolutions repeatedly being violated, to take an important example …

But in a world full of military and economic oppression we, or shall we say many of us, were eager to see openings to a more promising future. The fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago indeed gave many people hope that radical changes in the world order could be expected; hope which seemed to be well founded with a long overdue revival of the international justice system and new methods being developed in dealing with human rights violations.
Such an idea was The UN initiative called the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). It was rooted in the failure of the "international community" to stop the Rwandan genocide and based on the notion that sovereignty is not a right but a responsibility. Here there are three main principles:

  • That a state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities;
  • That the "international community" has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;
  • That if the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions or military intervention as a last resort.

I was – initially -  greatly impressed with this approach and at the first conference I attended, organized by the ICD in Ljubljana in 2012 and subsequent conferences in Berlin and Reykjavík I spoke at length on this principle, the way it had to be developed, taking note of reservations and suggestions for modification and improvement put forward by Brazil, already fearing manipulation of the principle.
Reservations proved to be well founded.

After the opening up by Edward Snowden, Chelsey Manning, Julian Assange and Wikileaks – which at present has an Icelander  in charge as chief editor, Kristinn Hrafnsson, a highly respected investigative journalist, a man of integrity; - after the opening up by these people of war logs and secret files showing us how blatantly regime change had been mapped out in the countries that later were to be “saved” under the pretext of the principle Responsibility to Protect. I might add that in my home country, Iceland, Wikileaks became well known in 2010, before acquiring world fame, after giving us insight into the darker side of finance transactions, partly explaining the financial crash Iceland suffered in 2008.

But returning to my argument the world´s attention was now called to carefully planned operations directed at regime change in Iraq, Syria and in no small way Lybia, which was brutally attacked by NATO forces in 2011 under the pretext of the principle of Responsibility to Protect.

Things I had taken at face value I now began to see in a more sinister light and what I now saw, but had not seen previously, was not to the benefit of the Western powers which to me appear as colonial in spirit as ever.

The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall should be an occasion to ponder where we stand, where we are making progress and where we are not, what may be lacking for a new world-order to function properly and in a just manner.

More or less coinciding with the fall of the Berlin Wall the military Warsaw pact came to an end while NATO decided to live on as a military instrument of the West this time seeking new justifications for its existence. At the fiftieth anniversary of NATO in 1999 we saw a marked change in the way NATO was defining itself. Instead of stating merely that an attack on one member state equaled an attack on all, we now had a definition whereby a threat to one was said to equal a threat to all. At the same time there was increased emphasis on the world-wide mobility of NATO forces. NATO, which had been geographically confined to NATO territory, now had the whole world in sight, everywhere there were threats to be seen to western interests   NATO should be ready to intervene – as was soon to be proven in Afghanistan and Lybia.

But after 2010 the Pandora box, thanks to Wikileaks, had been opened and we had, due to the work of before mentioned whistle-bowers and news providers, right from the military intestines of the US and their NATO allies, detailed information regarding regime change in different countries and the brutal methods used.

To crown all this the providers of this information are being haunted, most recently the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange being charged in the US with espionage, the prosecutor demanding 175 years imprisonment.

And the crime? Providing the world media, in other words providing us, you and me, with news of war crimes committed by those the prosecutor was working for. I have understood that the editors of Washington Post and the New York Times have protested the US demand for extradition of Julian Assange from Britain, now pending. But they speak in whispers; an outcry is needed! This is not about a single individual, also of course to be taken seriously if that was the case, it is about a free press, a free world, a world not manipulated by commercial, military, imperialist interests.

A point I want to raise as I come to the close of my talk is the alarming military build-up now taking place in the world, attracting surprisingly little attention.

Just over thirty years ago after massive democratic movements throughout the world against nuclear weapons, not the least in this country, Germany, the superpowers came to an agreement on halting the arms race and a pact was made on dismantling a part of the nuclear arsenals of East and West. This was revoked earlier this year and the race re-ignited. One of the two signatories to the treaties of disarmament in the late 80s, Michael Gorbatsev, warned only a few days ago, Monday this week, in an interview with the BBC, that the world was now in “colossal danger”, that is how he phrased it, of a nuclear war and that people must wake up to that danger. “All nations” and I quote him verbatim, (in an English translation) “all nations must declare that all nuclear weapons must be destroyed!”

I said I had spoken with enthusiasm about the principle of The Responsibility to Protect in the first meetings I attended in this institute. My enthusiasm for the very principles of protection of vulnerable people is still there while no longer do I have the illusions I had seven years ago and now I am more aware of the dangers that this noble principle can be misused and abused as we have seen in Syria and Libya of late.

For the principle of The Responsibility to Protect to function we must have a just and democratic world order. Here a pre-condition is a fundamental change in the UN institutional structure; we must do away with the Security Council, a remnant of 19th Century colonialism and the power constellations of the twentieth century.
In fact I am of the opinion that much more radical changes are needed in the world order. The world map must be redrawn – no less. The idea of Europe of the regions was - and still is – a good one; a way of transcending 19th and early 20 century map of Europe – opening up for the down-play of present day states, and the recognition of regions such as Scotland, Bask country, Catalonia; in fact the whole world needs a new map, to exchange the maps of the straight ruler-made borders of post and post-colonial compromise.
In such a world China would have to let go of Tibet and be further disintegrated, Russia also, not to mention the United States, fifty states there instead of one is probably the answer in a world which needs to unite under a new and different form of co-operative federalism and thus make  obsolete an order based on imperialist hegemony.
This may be in the future - you may say - but that future is needed soon if we are to survive.

 The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall should not be an occasion for complacency but an occasion for concern.