New books for the book fair: in the end, there is justice

"Double standards": Berlin-based international lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck writes about the Sisyphean work for a universally valid international criminal law.

A different measure of human rights: Abu Ghraib prison in 2006. photo: dapd

While the Syrian army continues to take military action against its own population, there is widespread perplexity abroad about this. Although the voices that trivialize the crimes against humanity committed by the Assad regime have quieted down, the UN Security Council is still far from reaching a common position.

Russia is covering up for the Syrian despot out of geostrategic self-interest, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague is investigating, but so far without consequence. Syria has not signed the Rome Statute and has not submitted to Hague jurisdiction.

Many doubt whether military or legal interventions in national conflicts make sense, as they would only serve the powerful West unilaterally. Berlin lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck tries to prove how wrong this attitude is in "Mit zweierlei Mab. The West and International Law."

Criminal complaint against Mercedes manager

Kaleck made a name for himself when, in the wake of General Pinochet’s imprisonment in London (1998-2000), he also filed charges in Germany against South American repressors. This led to investigations against Argentine General Jorge Rafael Videla, and another criminal complaint was directed against managers of Mercedes-Benz Argentina for aiding and abetting the murder of trade unionists.

Kaleck belongs to a network of internationally active lawyers who – like Judge Baltasar Garzón, who has just been banned from practicing in Spain – are fighting for the implementation of a universal world criminal law. One that advocates bringing crimes against humanity to trial abroad (or through international criminal tribunals) if the national judiciary in the perpetrator states blocks or is itself part of the injustice system.

Differences in the scale of the crimes

But this view is not a one-way street, as anti-imperialist critics or despots with vested interests like to claim. In 2006, Kaleck brought a case against former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA chief George Tenet before the Attorney General in Karlsruhe. He accused them of crimes committed during the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and of human rights violations at Abu Ghraib prison.

Kaleck emphasizes the difference in the extent of the crimes committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein, for example, and those committed by the US-led occupation regime. Nevertheless, he insists on naming all crimes as such and not to evaluate them according to double standards.

The high good of credibility

In historical digressions, he explains how the Cold War and talk of victors’ justice was – and still is – detrimental to the implementation of generally applicable human rights standards after 1945. Credibility is a valuable asset and can only be asserted in international conflicts if equal rights apply to all. And the West has historically found it difficult to do so, despite or precisely because of the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, whose positive achievements Kaleck acknowledges despite all their ambivalence.

But even the U.S. itself is not yet among the 120 signatories of the Rome Statute, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague could not investigate it without a decision by the UN Security Council.

This makes it unnecessarily easy for the mostly – bigoted, as Kaleck points out – criticism of the West’s "imperial" human rights policy by notorious torture states such as Iran or Burma. At the same time, the enforcement of the world rights principle in the West seems to be only a question of time. Corresponding legal disputes are being waged everywhere; Kaleck names a plethora. If the "double standards" were finally dropped, it would certainly be easier, also in the case of Syria, to exert a reasonable influence from the outside.

Wolfgang Kaleck: "Double standards. The West and International Criminal Law." Klaus Wagenbach Publishers, Berlin 2012, 144 pages, 15.90 euros.

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