09 February, 2006

The Magic of International Law - Part two

And so to that old bugbear about how the stuff in International Law is applied so erratically that it is hard to take it that seriously. I take a more optimistic view. Seventy years ago, the idea that a national leader could be taken to court abroad for any kind of human rights violation would have been laughable. Now, though, the world has moved in a direction where people have been banged up by international courts for taking part in the most serious of crimes against humanity. Now, you may well say that it is only losers who will find themselves in the dock at The Hague. However, any world leader will be familiar with the proposition that all political careers end in failure. Today's winner could be tomorrow's loser, and today's friend of the United States could be tomorrow's Saddam Hussein. So if we assume even a degree of rationality on the part of national leaders, the increasing prospect of indictment for heinous crimes might serve to deter them from engaging in them.

Those of us living in Europe have had the good fortune to live in states that signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe states signed up to it as a bland declaratory we-wuv-rights kind of thing, and it then turned into this friendly monster bringing new rights and stuff to the people of Europe. Like in Ireland, where it led to the decriminalisation of voluntary sexual acts between men.

I also read somewhere once that the human rights bits of the Helsinki accords that setup the Organisation for Security Cooperaton in Europe were a serious contributor to the fall of Communism. The Sovs had signed up to them more or less for the laugh, but they saddled them with a series of intrusive human rights inspectors and reports that basically made them look like the cockfarmers they were.

More generally, there are a lot of human rightsy stuff that states have signed up to in order to look good which then have a rolling effect on how they conduct their internal affairs. There is some international convention on torture, for instance, which is contributing to the improvement of conditions in prisons and mental institutions in our countries. And then there is the European Union's human rights requirements for its members... if any of the candidate countries are shown to have knowingly collaborated with the operation of illegal torture camps by the USA then their application process will be fucked. And if any member countries are shown to have operated the secret gulag on their territory then they could notionally have their EU membership suspended. I concede that that is unlikely to happen, but any EU country who was allowing US torture centres on its territory would see the collapse of its ability to influence events within the Union.

Sorry if this is all a bit disjointed… that’s what you get when you cut and paste from mailing lists. And sorry if anyone from Spy School is reading this with an air of déja vu.

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