UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay: “Pretext-maker” for Western Military Aggression
Navi Pillay is up to her old tricks: she’s abusing her position as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide a pretext for imperial aggression against Syria. Today, February 18, 2013, she repeated her call for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to be referred for investigation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the actions of his forces in trying to repel the western-back mercenary war against his country, which the UN says has killed almost 70000 in 22 months of fighting. And she went even further in calling for immediate action by the international community to end the killing, up to and including military intervention. 1
What Pillay is seeking is an indictment (arrest warrant) against Assad so as to demonize the Syrian president and delegimitize his government in the eyes of western public opinion and to turn Assad into an international pariah in anticipation of a possible, full-scale, western, military but “humanitarian” intervention for regime change in Syria.
Pillay’s remarks of today represent an escalation in her crusade against the Syrian president and the steadfast support his government has enjoyed in the UN Security Council (UNSC) from both Russia and China, which are permanent members of the UNSC and, therefore, have veto powers. Previously, Pillay had made an effort to temper her condemnation of the Syrian president by linking it to a condemnation of the crimes against humanity perpetrated (and even filmed!) by the foreign-backed mercenaries. 2
For example, on Friday, January 25, 2013, on CNN’s International News broadcast at noon 3, she was interviewed from Davos, Switzerland, (at the World Economic Forum, where high-level technocrats scheme about running the world’s economy for the next year on behalf of the 1%) by anchor, Hala Gorani, on the question of alleged and widespread human rights abuses in Syria.
While videos of the unfortunate families of refugees fleeing Syria were flashed upon the screen, Pillay indicated that she was increasingly frustrated by the failure of Russia and China (“and several other states”) to allow the United Nations Security Council to refer the request by 58 member countries of the United Nations for an investigation into the alleged human rights abuses by both sides in Syria to the ICC.
The January 25th CNN interview was only the latest of similar interviews of Pillay by CNN 4 and other mainstream media outlets, following the issue of a proposed ICC investigation into human rights abuses in Syria. So, why is this crusade on Pillay’s part important to CNN? Why does she get so much air time in the West? The answer is that governments and corporate media in the West are counting on Pillay to provide the same kind of pretext for regime change in Syria that she provide against the Gaddafi government of Libya.
THE LIBYAN PRECEDENTS
Two very useful precedents for illegal, but so-called “humanitarian”, intervention by NATO were set by the United Nations in regards to Libya. The first was that the doctrine of the responsibility to protect was successfully invoked, for the very first time, as a legal grounds for over-riding the fundamental principle of national sovereignty as the basis of international law.
R2P holds that, if a government cannot protect the human rights of its own citizens, the international community may step in to do so. In the case of Libya, R2P was used to justify United Nations Resolution 1973, the motion that authorized NATO to create a no-fly zone over Libya. Resolution 1973 was perverted by NATO within hours into a full-blown military intervention for regime change in Libya that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Libyans, pogroms against black persons resident in Libya, the assassinations of Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family, massive infrastructure damage, the de facto partitioning of the country, and a failed state machine.
But the first precedent (above) could not have been realized without the fancy legal footwork executed in advance by the nimble Navi in demonizing Mouammar Gaddafi and his son, Saif, at the UN. The second precedent, then, was the initiative taken by the UN Human Rights Council, chaired by Pillay, in calling for an international inquiry into violence against civilians in Libya. This call for an inquiry led the International Criminal Court, acting in the interests of the US empire and other neo-colonial powers such as France, Italy, and Britain, to obtain an indictment against the late, former leader of Libya, Mouammar Gaddafi and his son, Saif, for alleged human rights abuses by the Libyan government against Libyan civilians. In fact, the entire bureaucracy of the United Nations was completely finessed by the Empire in using fabricated abuses of human rights of Libyan civilians as an excuse to delegitimize, unseat, and demonize the legitimate government of Libya so as to manoeuvre the National Transitional Council of Libya [NTC] (organized and supported by all of the western powers) into the position of being recognized internationally as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. This manoeuvre, in turn, helped provide a further pretext for the NATO regime change operation in Libya.
The wholesale replacement of the official Libyan government representatives at the UN by those of the NTC was achieved in several rapid steps. First, on February 25, 2011, at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), representatives of more than 70 human rights NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) were assembled in Geneva, Switzerland, on a petition initiated by UN Watch (a pro-Israeli NGO) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to hear a litany of accusations of human rights violations on the part of the Gaddafi government by Dr. Soliman Bouchuiguir, who spoke for the Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR).
The LLHR was closely tied to the NTC and had, in fact, some executive members in common with it. No evidence of the human rights abuses that the Libyan government was alleged to have committed against Libyan civilians was ever entered as evidence. Libya was a member of the UNHCR but its membership had been temporarily suspended prior to the emergency meeting.
Therefore, it was not allowed to answer the charges levelled by the LLHR, an organization directly connected to the western-backed opposition. Navi Pillay, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, chaired the meeting. She is quoted as saying, “The Libyan leader must stop the violence now.” And she pointed out that Libya was a member of the Human Rights Council and pledged to respect human rights, and was also a State party to various international human rights treaties. 5 It was also at this meeting that “a statement (was) delivered on behalf of all of the Council’s independent human rights experts (who) endorsed the High Commissioner’s call for an international inquiry into the violence, stressing that the international community should “act without delay” to protect civilians from serious human rights violations.” 6 The UNHCR report was duly forwarded to the Security Council which formally suspended Libya from its seat on the UNHRC.
Shortly following the emergency meeting, Libya was prevented from appointing a new ambassador to the United Nations, following the defection of its two representatives at the UN to the opposition. 7 Despite having gone over to the opposition, the two defectors were granted “courtesy passes” allowing them access to the Security Council chamber where they delivered anti-Gaddafi remarks. Libya responded by naming former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister (under the revolutionary Sandinista government of the 1980′s) Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman as its new Permanent Representative to the UN. D’Escoto Brockman had also served as a former Secretary-General of the UN General Assembly. However, his attendance at the UN was blocked by Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, because he was on a tourist visa to the USA and not a diplomatic visa. D’Escoto Brockman rightly criticized UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of betraying the UN Charter and called the UN “a lethal weapon of the Empire.” 8
On March 28, 2011, Al Jazeera, the TV mouthpiece of the Qatari monarchy, an ally (with very deep pockets) of NATO in the Persian Gulf, first broadcast the Viagara libel. 9 In this narrative, which rivals the fantasies of the Kuwaiti incubator babies (a pretext for the First Gulf War) and of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the pretext for the Second Gulf War), the Libyan government of Mouammar Gaddafi was accused of encouraging the mass rapes of Libyan civilian women by distributing the drug, Viagara, to its troops. There turned out to be no evidence whatsoever of this wild accusation.
But that did not prevent all the major mainstream media outlets of the West from repeating it. Nor did it deter Susan Rice and her boss, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, from condemning Gaddafi. Finally, following the condemnation by Clinton, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the ICC at the time, issued an indictment (basically an arrest warrant) against Mouammar Gaddafi and his son, Saif, effectively turning them into pariahs and accused international war criminals.
There were three problems for the ICC and for Libyan civilians in indicting the Gaddafis, not the least of which was the lack of evidence. The other two were the ICC’s own record and the consequences of the Viagara libel. The ICC’s record was very sketchy to say the least. In his decade of tenure as chief prosecutor, twenty-nine Africans were indicted by Ocampo but only one was convicted and not on the original charges contained in the indictment.10 11 In every instance when the ICC, under his leadership, became involved with political leaders, the leaders indicted were always African and at odds with the foreign policy goals of the USA. It should be noted that the USA has not accepted the jurisdiction of the the court over its own citizens, who have immunity from ICC prosecution. In other words, the ICC is a one-way street along which the racist and neo-colonial goals of US foreign policy are driven in Africa, but the crimes of racism and neo-colonialism go unpunished. The ICC has never issued an indictment for war crimes or human rights abuses against the likes of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper, Nikolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron, nor is it ever likely to do so.
Finally, the indictment issued for allegedly distributing Viagara to its troops was part of a racist campaign in the West suggesting falsely that the Gaddafi government had so little support among the people of Libya that the Libyan leader had to resort to hiring black mercenaries from Sub-Saharan Africa to retain his hold on power. The old shibboleth of black men raping light(er)-skinned women played very well, as would be expected, in the mainstream media of the USA, Britain, Canada, France, and other mainly white countries, where a latent pool of racism lays just below the surface of the consciousness of a certain part of the population and where an ersatz concern for the welfare of women is used as a rationale to wage war on foreign peoples, as in Afghanistan, and now in Mali. 12
The results for black Libyans (one-third of the total Libyan population) and the hundreds of thousands of black migrant workers resident in Libya were absolutely catastrophic, including mass arrests, beatings, thefts, kidnappings, torture, lynchings, and ethnic cleansing. For a thorough assessment of this chapter in NATO’s war of terror on Libya, please refer to Maximilian Forte’s excellent new book, Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa, published by Baraka Books of Montreal.
NAVI PILLAY, the ICTR, and ICC
Pillay was not just complicit in paving the way for a NATO military intervention in Libya. She previously established her international credentials as a servant of the US Empire in the aftermath of a US-sponsored proxy war of conquest in Rwanda. As President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, she exercised power on behalf of the US victors (and their ex-patriate Tutsi proxy warriors) by dispensing a sub-standard form of “justice” to the losers (officials and supporters of the former majority Hutu government) . For a comprehensive account of that war and the humanitarian tragedy it caused, please see Robin Philpot’s, Rwanda 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard 13 and Michel Chussodovsky’s “The US was behind the Rwandan Genocide. Rwanda: Installing a US Protectorate in Central Africa.” 14
Similarly, she served as a justice of the International Criminal Court at the Hague (alongside prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, mentioned above) dealing with a number of black leaders of countries who had run afoul of US foreign policy goals in Africa.
PILLAY AND WESTERN MILITARY INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
The Western-backed mercenary war for regime change in Syria began in early 2011. 15 It was formally funded at a meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” conference on April 1, 2012, in Istanbul, which was attended by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird as well as representatives of about 70 countries. 16
What is less known, however, was that Canada was deeply involved in setting up the Friends of Syria group at a pre-conference meeting in Tunisia in December, 2011. 17 At the Istanbul conference, the participants established a division of labour regarding the mercenary war on Syria. The US committed to provide “communications equipment”, the absolute monarchs of Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged vast sums of money, while Canada undertook to provide $8.5 million in humanitarian aid (to Syrian refugees) and in “opposition assistance.” 18
Sending mercenaries to fight for regime change within a sovereign country is a war crime, according to the Nuremberg Principles and the London Charter of 1945. It is also a violation of the very first article of the UN Charter. 19 As well, it amounts to interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, which sovereignty is the cornerstone of all international law. Even to threaten regime change in a sovereign country is a violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter. 20 Furthermore, all of the heinous crimes perpetrated by the western-backed mercenaries in Syria, some of which were videotaped by the mercenaries themselves for the entire world to see, and which include extralegal assassination of civilians, execution of military prisoners, destruction of civilian infrastructure, bombing public places (such as schools) and thereby killing and injuring civilians, and many more, are themselves violations of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, not to mention the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At the same time as various western and Gulf states were waging this mercenary war on Syria, virtually all of them, including Canada, 21 had signed onto the UN and Arab League Six-Point Peace Plan for Syria which called for a Syrian-led, negotiated settlement of the crisis, notably without calling for the removal of Syrian President Assad. 22 Similarly, they had adopted a communiqué on June 1, 2012 in Geneva, advocating a political solution, involving the participation of the current government of Syria. 23 UN Special Envoys, Kofi Annan and Lakhtar Brahimi, were charged with facilitating the negotiated end of the crisis and engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Moscow, Iran, Egypt, Istanbul and many other capitals for many months. At the UN Security Council, Russia and China used their vetoes on at least three occasions to block further economic sanctions against Syria as well as resolutions authorizing a western military intervention in Syria.
As early as August 2011, Navi Pillay was engaged with the issue of human rights abuses in this theatre of war. Not surprisingly (given her track record), she completely ignored the UN Charter and international law and sided firmly with the western and Gulf states who were underwriting and organizing the undeclared mercenary war against Syria, while at the same professing support for the UN’s Six-Point Peace Plan. In August of 2011, she urged the Security Council to refer the issue of widespread human rights abuses in Syria to the ICC. 24 She repeated this call at the UN and in the media in December of 2011, several times more in 2012, and most recently in January of 2013, when, for example, she was interviewed by Hala Gorani on CNN. She also complained about the Russian and Chinese governments’ use of their Security Council vetoes to oppose resolutions targetting Syria. In her briefing to the UN General Assembly on February 13, 2012, for example, she stated her one-sided view that “the failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force.” 25 And, in calling for the matter to be referred to the ICC for investigation, she unquestioningly and consistently has quoted the dubious casualty figures supplied by the foreign-backed Syrian opposition.26
We can now see why CNN and other western mainstream media are so interested in following the Navi Pillay story: as in Libya and Rwanda, where Navi Pillay was a player, the present narrative justifying western military intervention in Syria invokes the responsibility to protect the human rights of civilians, which allegedly cannot be guaranteed by the target government. Against the backdrop of ordinary civilians fleeing Syria in their hundreds of thousands (which did not occur before the start of the western-backed mercenary war), Navi Pillay is portrayed as being on the side of the angels.
Humanitarian intervention is a powerful tool in the West, where even people on the “left”, who should know better, fall for it. Take, for instance, the most recent petition by 58 countries to UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon to approach the Security Council to refer to the ICC an investigation into widespread human rights abuses in Syria. The petition was initiated behind closed doors by the USA and spearheaded at the United Nations by the UK, because of two issues. The first is the consternation (and surprise) of western states with the steadfast opposition of Russia and China at the Security Council to any such resolution, because those two veto-wielding powers learned the hard way, through their losses in Libya 27, that such an investigation would lead inexorably to an indictment by the ICC of President Assad and provide a pretext for a western military intervention in Syria. The second issue was that Syria never ratified the Treaty of Rome which established the International Criminal Court. Therefore, like the USA, its citizens cannot be prosecuted by it. These difficulties are formidable for the success of such a petition. Nonetheless, as in the case of Libya and Rwanda, creative sidestepping of the rule of international law is a specialty of legal counsellors of the empire such as Navi Pillay. The next few months will probably see her tirelessly working her tricks to achieve that end.
It should be noted, however, that the Syrian government responded directly to Pillay and the 58-country petition with a statement of its own on January 18, 2013, terming the initiative “the wrong approach.” 28 Instead, the Syrian government called, among other things, for an end to the foreign-backed mercenary war, the end of jihadist fatwas resulting in brutalities against civilians, and the lifting of sanctions.
The problems with the petition cited above did not faze the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). In its statement of January 15, 2013, 29 CJPME stated that it applauded the decision of 58 countries to ask the UN Security Council to refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation: ” ‘If the Security Council acts on the request, it will send a powerful signal to both the Syrian government and the opposition that war crimes and human rights violations cannot be committed with impunity,’ says CJPME President Thomas Woodley.” The statement also includes a reference to a report by Human Rights Watch that blames both the Syrian government and foreign-backed opposition with human rights abuses.
CJPME should know better. In fact, war crimes and human rights violations are committed continuously and with complete impunity by the western powers. The USA has invaded over sixty countries since the end of World War ll while the hands of the former colonial powers, stained in the blood of the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America, are once more reaching for the resources of Libya, Syria, and Mali. The continuing oppression of the Palestinian people is a due to western governments’ carte blanche attitude to Israeli aggression. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the National Endowment for Democracy have all provided the human rights figleaf for western interventions in Iraq, Libya, Rwanda, and many other countries, by repeating and circulating allegations of abuses of human rights, which, after the fact, are proven to be false.
Another group that should know better is the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR). Two days before Muammar Gaddafi was taken prisoner, sodomized, and executed by Libyan “rebels” with the assistance of Western special forces on the ground, 30 Jillian Siskind, President of CLAIHR, was writing in The Mark and giving video interviews about the fact that Canadians should be proud of our country’s participation in military operations, such as in Libya, relating to the responsibility to protect. She wrote: “Canadians and our government should be proud of our contribution to international peace and security – not just our participation in the collective action of R2P, which attempts to bring greater security and a safer future to populations whose rights have been trampled upon, but also our leadership role in the great effort that resulted in the R2P doctrine. The principles that we set forth have now been established as an international norm. On this 10th anniversary of R2P, we should be celebrating our contribution to international law…” 31
It appears that there is a sort of collective amnesia amongst some circles in the West regarding military interventions. The military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya, in every case, made things worse for the majority of civilians: massive infrastructure destruction, deaths in five to seven figures, homelessness, lawlessness (and lack of personal security), partition and/or failed state status, ethnic cleansing, birth defects (due to the use of depleted uranium shells), long-lasting psychological problems for children, and a worsening standard of living for the target country’s general population. No matter how much a failure the last intervention was in protecting the human rights of the civilians in the target country, those amnesiacs, such as the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, are always chomping at the bit to begin the next.
During a recent visit on the part of the executive committee of the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War to the three sitting New Democratic members of parliament for Hamilton, one of the MP’s asked, “Can you not see any possible case in which the doctrine of the responsibility to protect would be justified?”
The head of the HCSW delegation replied that, given the unequal distribution of power in the contemporary world, military interventions can only be mounted with the backing of the great powers of the world, who, of necessity, will pick and choose where to intervene (or not to intervene) based on their own national interests.
As the current international struggle over Syria unfolds with greater rapidity and danger – Patriot missile batteries in Turkey (which enable NATO to create a back-door, no-fly-zone over Syria); an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian research facility; US and British special forces on the ground co-ordinating with the foreign-backed mercenaries; the presence of a large US naval fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, including at least one Canadian frigate; unsubtle NATO threats to seize Syrian chemical weapons; the Iranian government assertion that it regards an attack on Syria as an attack on Iran – Canadians need to be wary of crass appeals to their genuine humanitarian instincts posed by the Syrian refugee crisis and widespread abuse of human rights in Syria.
Navi Pillay, pretext-maker for imperial aggression, is almost within reach of her presidential target in Syria. Don’t fall for her tricks.
Ken Stone is a veteran anti-war and anti-racist activist and Treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop The War. (www.hamiltoncoalitiontostopthewar.ca)
4http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/02/un-commissioner-60000-killed-in-syria-since-march-2011/ Pillay was previously interviewed on CNN on the subject of Syrian refugees on January 2, 2013;
5 UN News Centre, February 25, 2011,
7Maximilian Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa, Baraka Books, Montreal, 2012, page 248;
8ibid, page 249;
9ibid, page 253;
12http://www.thespec.com/news/world/article/879242–women-of-timbuktu-remembering-their-dance-steps . Thanks to the French military intervention in Mali, we are led to believe that the status of women has been restored in Mali. In Afghanistan, we have been told by the Harper government of Canada, that the status of women there has been improved by NATO occupation. Actually, the standard of living of all Afghans has dramatically deteriorated during the eleven-year-old war which has seen an increasing number of self-immolations by desperate Afghan women unable to provide for their children ;
15 The western military intervention in Syria was actually planned as early as 2007. Please see chapter 14, “NATO and the Levant: Lebanon and Syria”, of M. D. Nazemroaya’s new book, The Globalization of NATO, published by Global Research, 2012;
26 According to journalist Robert Fisk, the casualty figures jumped 15,000 in one week. Public lecture, Hamilton, Ontario, January 28, 2013;
27 Both Russia and China suffered from the overthrow of the Libyan government led by Muammar Gaddafi, not only in terms of the loss of their prestige in being hoodwinked by NATO’s abuse of UN Resolution 1973 (the no-fly-zone), but also in terms of business contracts and loans that were nullifed by the new Libyan government. Public lecture, Dr. Atif Kubursi, September 13, 2012, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Audio record: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/63312; video record: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6rvEpmRUkw&feature=youtu.be
30 Maximilian Forte, in a radio interview with Phil Taylor on the “Taylor Report”, CIUT 89.5 (University of Toronto Radio, January 28, 2013) http://www.radio4all.net/responder.php/download/65993/73295/86423/?url=http://firstname.lastname@example.org/16-1-SyriaMaliLibya.mp3;
31Jillian Siskind, The Mark, October 19, 2011. http://www.themarknews.com/articles/7072-canada-and-the-responsibility-to-protect/#.URMzrWdA08A.