"Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international crime," the 87-year-old Ferenccz told OneWorld from his home in New York. He said the United Nations charter, which was written after the carnage of World War II, contains a provision that no nation can use armed force without the permission of the UN Security Council.
Ferenccz said that after Nuremberg the international community realized that every war results in violations by both sides, meaning the primary objective should be preventing any war from occurring in the first place.
He said the atrocities of the Iraq war--from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of dozens of civilians by U.S. forces in Haditha to the high number of civilian casualties caused by insurgent car bombs--were highly predictable at the start of the war.
Which wars should be prosecuted? "Every war will lead to attacks on civilians," he said. "Crimes against humanity, destruction beyond the needs of military necessity, rape of civilians, plunder--that always happens in wartime. So my answer personally, after working for 60 years on this problem and [as someone] who hates to see all these young people get killed no matter what their nationality, is that you've got to stop using warfare as a means of settling your disputes."
Ferenccz believes the most important development toward that end would be the effective implementation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is located in the Hague, Netherlands.
The court was established in 2002 and has been ratified by more than 100 countries. It is currently being used to adjudicate cases stemming from conflict in Darfur, Sudan and civil wars in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But on May 6, 2002--less than a year before the invasion of Iraq--the Bush administration withdrew the United States' signature on the treaty and began pressuring other countries to approve bilateral agreements requiring them not to surrender U.S. nationals to the ICC.
Three months later, George W. Bush signed a new law prohibiting any U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court. The law went so far as to include a provision authorizing the president to "use all means necessary and appropriate," including a military invasion of the Netherlands, to free U.S. personnel detained or imprisoned by the ICC.
That's too bad, according to Ferenccz. If the United States showed more of an interest in building an international justice system, they could have put Saddam Hussein on trial for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"The United Nations authorized the first Gulf War and authorized all nations to take whatever steps necessary to keep peace in the area," he said. "They could have stretched that a bit by seizing the person for causing the harm. Of course, they didn't do that and ever since then I've been bemoaning the fact that we didn't have an International Criminal Court at that time."
Ferenccz is glad that Saddam Hussein is now on trial.
Saddam Hussein. © Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep This week, the Iraqi government began to try the former dictator for crimes connected to his ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurds. According to Human Rights Watch, which has done extensive on-the-ground documentation, Saddam's Ba'athist regime deliberately and systematically killed at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds over a six-month period in 1988.
Kurdish authorities put the number even higher, saying 182,000 Kurdish civilians were killed in a matter of months.
Everyone agrees innumerable villages were bombed and some were gassed. The surviving residents were rounded up, taken to detention centers, and eventually executed at remote sites, sometimes by being stripped and shot in the back so they would fall naked into trenches.
In his defense, Saddam Hussein has disputed the extent of the killings and maintained they were justified because he was fighting a counter-insurgency operation against Kurdish separatists allied with Iran. When asked to enter a plea, the former president said "that would require volumes of books."
Ferenccz said whatever Saddam's reasons, nothing can justify the mass killing of innocents.
"The offenses attributable to ex-President Hussein since he came to power range from the supreme international crime of aggression to a wide variety of crimes against humanity," he wrote after Saddam was ousted in 2003. "A fair trial will achieve many goals. The victims would find some satisfaction in knowing that their victimizer was called to account and could no longer be immune from punishment for his evil deeds. Wounds can begin to heal. The historical facts can be confirmed beyond doubt. Similar crimes by other dictators might be discouraged or deterred in future. The process of justice through law, on which the safety of humankind depends, would be reinforced."
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