Western nations undermining rule of law – and non-western nations respect for it

Over the last few decades there has been a systemic undermining of the western worlds respect for the very international legal framework that it has gone to such great lengths to extol the virtues of. This systemic undermining has come through a complex combination of military actions, legislative changes and court rulings by various nations acting out of perceived international interest that have been confused for the corporate agenda.

The War on Terrorism is one example of where western nations have sought to maintain the moral and legal higher ground, but where they have in many respects actually undermined their own cause. During the months following 11 September 2001, in a rush to appear united against terrorism many nations including America, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia passed terrorism suppression legislation. In some respects this was necessary to address gaps in existing legislation around issues such as membership in terrorist groups, funding, arming and logistical support. However, tests in these nations of the laws passed, by enforcement agencies raised significant questions about the legality of the laws very existence.

In 2007, New Zealand police acting on intelligence conducted a series of raids in October of that year on groups around the country, who were perceived to be a problem. Some of those caught up in the raids were environmental activists that were being monitored by Solid Energy because they were known to be part of the Coal Action Network, which planned to disrupt on the grounds of climate change the transportation of coal trains to Lyttelton where their contents would be exported to China. Whilst it is true that by blocking railway tracks, the activists were committing trespassing and obstruction offences, these had nothing to do with the “War on Terrorism” and certainly posed no national security threat.

But it was a raid on the same day in Urewera National Park, land that was considered to belong to Tuhoe and was the scene of several ugly confrontations, that exposed the questionable nature of the terrorism legislation. Armed police in full kit swooped on houses around the fringe of the National Park and stormed households that were later found to pose no recognizable threat, and that the raids were not conducted in compliance with New Zealand law which requires a search warrant. These were damaging truths and the Police had to apologize and the Government offer reparation for the harm done.

More recently, these countries have shown support for Middle East nations that have no regard at all for the international rule of law, by funding and arming them to commit war crimes that are punishable in the Hague. I find it very hard to support a “War on Terrorism” when the key “good guy nations” in it are funding and arming war criminals themselves. These same “good guy nations” have also clamped down on groups in their own jurisdiction that were not necessarily militant groups, but dissident groups with long held concerns, where the Government perceived those groups to be some sort of security threat.

A consequence of such actions is the gradual undermining of non-western nations respect for international law. A very good example of this has been playing out between China and its southeast Asian neighbours over territorial claims in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. In this instance China has laid claim to a large part of the South China Sea including the Spratly’s which it claims are part of its maritime jurisdiction. To reinforce this, China has built an artificial island base with dock facilities for ships and an airfield on which to land aircraft – it has since become a fully operational base.

Another detrimental element of this undermining of international law has been the disregard shown by Russia for human rights law in Syria. Since 2014, Russian involvement in Syria has included the blocking of investigations of the Bashar al-Assad regime for war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It has funded the Assad regime and supplied it with assorted military grade weapons and the ammuntion. These have included cluster munitions which have been extensively used, and linked by Amnesty International to strikes on villages, hospitals and schools.

If the West wants non-Western nations to respect international law, then it should respect said law itself.


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