19 years after 9/11, global order in turmoil

By Ameen Izzadeen
Nineteen years ago today, a series of terror attacks shook the United States and with that the world changed. While fear-struck Americans were witnessing a massive attack on home soil for the first time since the Pearl Harbour attack by Japan during World War II, the United States’ then rulers were charting a reverse course in world politics.
Dumping international law, human rights and humanitarian principles into the dustbin, the then US President George W. Bush took his nation on a path where might was regarded as right, injustice as justice and lies as truth. Country after country was attacked, invaded and their resources were destroyed or plundered.
All this was in the name of fighting terrorism or under the guise of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction or liberating oppressed people from tyrannical rulers.
The world was lurching forward in the right direction to establish a just global order, before 9/11 happened. The movement came to a halt and began to recoil when the US decided to go after al-Qaeda – the terror group which hijacked four passenger planes and used them as missiles to attack US targets in New York and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001.
The world prior to 9/11 was one of search for solutions for the planet’s problems. In the years between the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the 9/11 attacks, political liberalism or libertarianism was refined or redefined to bring about peace and justice. During this period, the sole superpower US was compelled to moderate its ambitions to dominate the world and listened to the call that power should be exercised with responsibility to find solutions to the world’s socio-economic and political problems, such as global poverty, illiteracy, disease, climate change and conflicts between nations.
It was during this period that talks began to convert the placid United Nations Human Rights Commission into a proactive Human Rights Council, strengthen it with a comprehensive human rights mandate, and turn it into a forum empowered to prevent abuses, inequity and discrimination, protect the most vulnerable, and expose perpetrators.
It was during this period that the world united under the United Nations to save the environment. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the landmark Kyoto Protocol were the products of this period where the idealists’ dream of Utopia was becoming a political reality.
The world was moving towards a rule-based political order, with international law given due respect. Human rights violators and war criminals were brought before justice. War crimes tribunals were set up in in 1993 and 1994 to bring before justice those who committed crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, while talks led to the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 to set up a permanent International Criminal Court.
The Utopian trajectory was upended, with the US involved in the war on terror violating the Geneva Convention on warfare and justifying torture and extrajudicial killings.
Washington, which had been a reluctant participant in the international dialogue to set up a world criminal court, seized the opportunity 9/11 offered. Bush unsigned the Rome Statute and withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Since then, US presidents, probably with the exception of Barack Obama, have been clinging on to this regressive stance.
The present US president, Donald Trump, in comparison to his predecessors, appears to be a natural scoffer of international law, as has been seen in his outlandish recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Syria’s Golan Heights as the sovereign territory of Israel.
He has withdrawn the US membership from the UNHRC, UNESCO, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees and the Iran Nuclear Treaty. He has also taken steps to withdraw from the World Health Organisation, which is playing a pivotal role in coordinating measures to eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic and find a vaccine.
Last week, in what was seen as the Trump administration’s most aggressive foreign policy move, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against two top ICC prosecution team members, because they were preparing a war-crimes file against US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Since the setting up of the world criminal court, the US has been browbeating or cajoling nations such as Sri Lanka to sign bilateral immunity agreements or the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which allows wrongdoing US troops to escape the criminal jurisdiction of receiving states. The US argues that trying or punishing US troops for criminal activities is a matter exclusively for the US jurisdiction. None of the US war crime suspects or human rights abusers, including the Abu Ghraib prison’s naked human pyramid torturers, was tried in Iraq with which the US has signed a SOFA.
But ICC prosecutors argue that under the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction to hear not only crimes committed by member states but also crimes committed in member states even if the perpetrator is not a party to the Rome Statute. The US fought hard to remove the relevant clause during the deliberations, but its efforts failed in the face of the libertarian or the positive political spirit of that time.
The US move to impose sanctions on ICC officials is tantamount to intimidation of prosecutors. According to a UN declaration, prosecutors and their families shall be physically protected by the authorities when their personal safety is threatened as a result of the discharge of prosecutorial functions.
At international conferences, US delegates call for a rule-based international order while directing their invectives at China and its assertive diplomacy in the South China Sea region. But the US itself is a poor respecter of a rule-based global order. By imposing sanctions on the senior ICC employees, the Trump administration has stooped to a new low in foreign policy making.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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