| by Moira Rayner
( January 04, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Osama Bin Laden’When thy enemy shall fall, be not glad, and in his ruin let not thy heart rejoice.’ Proverbs chapter 24, verse 17.
We have not achieved justice, as US President Obama announced, by acting unjustly.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of another Democrat President of the United States, brought to magnificent life on 10 December 1948 provides that:
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
The US adopted the UDHR, and it has not ratified any significant international human rights treaty since. It committed itself morally, if not in domestic law, to outlawing the kind of extra-judicial killing that mars the public lives of governments in Africa, South America, parts of Europe and other ‘advanced’ countries that have presidents, parliaments, and coups and under-classes.
These are killings not authorised by courts and judges after a fair trial. Extra-judicial killings are, as Osama bin Laden’s death was, murder. Bin Laden was not brought to justice. His execution by agents of the sovereign people of the United States was a fundamental breach of Article 10 of the UHDR.
Even the Israelis — not renowned for their embrace of the internationally recognised human rights of Palestinians — acknowledged this distinction when, more than 40 years ago, they put Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem, after kidnapping him in South America, to face formal charges that he had planned and facilitated horrendous crimes against humanity.
We have slipped, politically, far from the objectives of both the International Court of Justice in The Hague — where Bin Laden could have been tried — the domestic tribunal that tried (then ordered the execution of) Eichmann, and the extraordinary nobility of the aims of the Nuremberg trials.
It was the US and their second world war allies who set the extraordinary precedent of providing independent courts of justice to address the massive crimes against humanity carried out in Europe by Nazis against their own and others’ citizens: not only murder, but genocide; torture, retaliation killings of citizens in response to unrelated partisan atrocities; retrospective laws and politically partisan ‘courts’ that sent men and women to horrible deaths after travesties of ‘hearings’. All of it condemned, and all of it challenged by the concept of justice for all, no matter who wins the war.
I do not argue that Obama is an international criminal, but that the laws of civilised behaviour must apply to every actor in every circumstance. Killing Bin Laden, rather than capturing him and putting him on trial, was obviously the objective of the attack on his retreat, so let us not pretend otherwise.
Politically, Obama had every reason to do what he did, but in the process he committed his people to a legal and ethical mistake which will be a continuing obstacle to the West’s integrity in its pursuit of freedom and democracy, internationally recognised standards of justice and human rights, and lasting peace.
The author of Proverbs speaks for every one of us who respects the Book that is the common heritage of men and women of goodwill who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and every good and humane leader whether or not she is committed to an organised or institutionalised faith. A quote commonly attriubuted to Martin Luther King sums up my sentiments most precisely:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
When I was admitted to practice I committed myself to the rule of law, because without order and predictability and an agreed limit to power there can’t be any self-control, room for liberty to flourish or confidence to grow that an individual can safely lower their guard and share with strangers, which we need to move away from the comforting cage of family, tribe, village and city and nation.
We are still faltering over at the frightening realities of the global village and the global economy, and genuinely scared about the responsibilities that come with the globalisation of human rights (look at how we treat refugees).
But what are now UN-initiated ‘universal human rights’ had their genesis in so-called natural or divine laws, and an effort to make us see that our deities aren’t shaped by particular human culture, and wrongs have unintended long-term consequences.
There may be exceptions to a particular rule of the law, which is a living instrument, but the regulation of revenge was what made local customs ‘common’, and nations grow. Both law and spirituality define revenge as an outlawed reason for any act, no matter how brave and skilful or how great the provocation.
Moira Rayner is a barrister and writer. She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner. She is principal of Moira Rayner and Associates.
Courtesy: Eureka Street