Before I go into my story I wish to make a disclaimer. International law and the rules of international law have brought much sanity to the relations between states, which sanity was absent many years ago. The system has numerous faults but it still remains relevant in a world where without it, a depression into total chaos would be eminent. This piece does not wish to diminish that role. It rather seeks to highlight the recurrent problem that the system faces which is increasingly proving to be a limiting factor in the full realisation of global peace.
That recurrent problem goes by the name of ‘double standards.’ These double standards have given birth to skepticism and cynicism about how effective the Security Council can occupy the role of guarantor for global peace and security. In fact the double standard culture that has permeated the United Nations System has taken me back to one of my first lectures as an undergraduate law student when one of my renowned lecturers, Dr Lovemore Madhuku, stated categorically that there is a very thin divide between law and politics.
Indeed the events of 24 September 2011, when Palestine made its official bid for statehood showed me this thin divide between law and politics. I watched as President Barack Obama, a man I had admired because of his great achievement in an environment that would not give him an easy chance(and of course for his good looks) disappointed me acutely. President Obama delivered an impeccable speech that crushed the hopes of the Palestinians to gain freedom and reaffirmed his support for Israel, a state whose history fits the adage of the “oppressed who became the oppressor.” Not long ago was the world condemning the killings of Jews by the Nazi regime and not so long ago were museums and monuments built in memory of those who lost their lives at the hands of the 3rd Reich, Adolf Hitler in his anti-Semitic campaign.
Yet today, it is the same Jews who are guilty of a targeted campaign against another group, the Palestinians merely because they are Arabs. For years Europe and North America have turned a blind eye to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Numerous human rights violations have been committed against Palestinians in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian territories including restrictions in movement, institutional discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill treatment of Palestinians, dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the demolition of their homes and displacement of Palestinian Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev).
One of my lecturers, for whom I have great respect, Professor John Dugard served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinain Occupied Territories and shared with me and my colleagues (LLM Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa-Class of 2010) his experiences as the Rapporteur. He said he had reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council that the “standards of human rights in the Palestinian territories had fallen to intolerable new levels” and likened the restrictions on freedom of movement to those that existed in South Africa during apartheid. He also stated strongly that the Israeli actions against Palestine were racist. Of course, Israel and the United States dismissed his findings as biased.
And here we have come to the point when Palestine is seeking to achieve its freedom and such freedom can never be complete without full recognition of its statehood. The recognition of Palestine as a state is a procedure of international law. The human rights violations being perpetrated by the Israeli government against Palestine are a subject of international law. But the decision taken by Mr Obama to counter Palestine’s bid for statehood was purely a political one. It is not surprising that he supported Israel given that elections are looming and the Zionist Movement (a movement that favors the protection of Israel and opposes all those who are perceived to threaten its security) hold his reigns on power in their hands. His decision was purely political and pragmatic given his circumstances but it was disappointing, to say the least. I believed he was a man who would not let anything stand against the ideals of dignity and freedom. Once again politics won over international law and political expediency won over respect for human rights.
To go back to my argument, the Palestinian case is more than just a case of self-determination. It is the story of a people who seek to reassert their control over their land from which they have been dispossessed. It is a story of a people who need to regain their independence, freedom and dignity. The story of Israel’s involvement in Palestine is about disregard for human rights and continued disrespect of rules of international law, without censure or condemnation from those with the resounding power to do so.
Palestine’s bid already has the support of more than 130 of the world’s nations but then again because of the legacy of unequal ‘equal’ nations that characterises the structure of the United Nations, the voice of the superpowers will always count. Even if the General Assembly endorses Palestine’s bid, their decision without the endorsement of the Security Council will not be legally valid to constitute a conferment of statehood. For the Security Council to make such a referral all the permanent members need to have agreed with it and if one decides to disagree, then it would use its veto power to block the decision from attaining legal status. The US looks set to use that veto power against Palestine.
This is one time when I am persuaded to agree with one of the sayings of my President whose speeches have often been dismissed as the “rantings and ravings of a disillusioned despot’ when he said at the 62nd Session of the General Assembly
“Once again we reiterate our position that the Security Council as presently constituted is not democratic. In its present configuration, the Council has shown that it is not in a position to protect the weaker states who find themselves at loggerheads with a marauding super-power. Most importantly, justice demands that any Security Council reform redresses the fact that Africa is the only continent without a permanent seat and veto power in the Security Council.”
The tendencies of pronounced expediency in the way the superpowers have used their veto power to serve their own agendas is disturbing. The case of Palestine is only one such example among many. The Chinese government sits on the Security Council yet it continues to engage in trade with the Sudanese government. China has not taken any action against Sudan. In fact evidence shows that the current bombings in Sudan are being made possible through the use of Russian and Chinese manufactured weapons, and both countries are members of the Security Council. When a government drops bombs on innocent civilians killing thousands, maiming children, taking off their limbs, gutting their stomachs open, should these nations not take action? Oh well, China has a reputation for putting money before humanity but what does this all mean when the Security Council as the body that is supposed to represent the ideals of peace, security and human dignity is made up of states that do not care about those ideals.
The Americans and Europeans cannot raise their heads against Bashir too because his actions against the Nuba and Darfuris and the tactics his troops employ in committing these atrocities are exactly the same ones that the Israeli Army commits against Palestine. Like the Israelis have done in Palestine, Khartoum gets fake lists of insurgents, storms into their homes, kills or abducts alleged insurgents, tears down whole towns and villages to quash the so called rebellion and destroys everything in its sight.
Where Israel’s military carried out an assault on a convoy of six humanitarian aid ships travelling to Gaza, they were let off lightly and so Bashir emulated these actions blocking humanitarian aid from reaching South Kordofan by increasing insecurity and displaying disrespect for humanitarian staff ignoring guarantees of respect to their immunity and interfering with peacekeeping missions, removing all guarantees that should be respected in accordance with International Conventions and the Status of Forces Agreement. Human rights advocates will speak and lobby the Security Council but the most one will get is a statement condemning the killings.
Even if the case of Sudan were to be seriously considered before the Security Council there are fears that it would be vetoed by China which has vested interests in Sudan as much as the Israeli- Palestinian issue will always be blocked by the US. This then reflects the redundancy of the Security Council as an effective international mechanism for responding to international crises even where genocide is happening and the words of my Uncle Bob ring true; in its present state, the Security Council is in no fit state to protect the rights of the citizens in weaker states which do not have the support of the stronger states! We wait to see if the veto shall win yet again, although all indicators do not leave room for one to hope for anything different.