Rule of Law


An Interview with Shawan Jabarin

By David Kattenburg

There is no rule of law in the world today. Not in human affairs, not for the planet.

Blind to the laws of biogeochemistry, humans have transformed Earth’s surface more radically than at any point in the last 2.5 billion years.

Since the launch of what a group of researchers dub the “Great Acceleration” (1950 is the year they’ve pegged), Homo sapiens have laid down a globe-girdling stratum of concrete, asphalt, aluminum, lead and other heavy metals, pesticides, radionuclides, mega-mountains of industrial refuse, and an inconceivably huge volume of plastic, now well dispersed as micro-fibers in the world’s ocean sediments.

In the course of all their furious activity, slashing and paving over earth at breakneck speed, humans have undermined the ability of other biota to make a simple living. Not since the smoldering end of the Permian, Earth’s greatest extinction event, 250 million years ago, have living species been vanishing at such a rate — including our closest relations, the great apes.

Not to be restricted in the scope of their endeavor, humans have been conducting a vast experiment on Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, altering their composition and the climate system they support. Carbon dioxide and other, more powerful atmospheric greenhouse gases are now more concentrated than at any time in almost a million years.

Still, humans keep going, because it makes money, and they can. In Canada, a country reputed for global conscience and good governance, a young, charismatic leader who rose to power vowing to tackle this greatest of human challenges continues to approve oil pipelines and hand out subsidies for fossil fuel extraction.

In international relations, it’s the law of the jungle. The five most powerful countries on Earth get to pick and choose which international laws they’ll abide by, doling out slices of impunity to allies and clients. Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad can drop barrel bombs on hospitals and kindergartens with no remorse or fear, because Russia has his back. Russia helps out. Kim Jong-un can tinker with nuclear weapons, because that’s China’s backyard.

It’s all nothing compared to the unbridled licentiousness of the British and French, selling high-performance arms systems to  deep-pocketed human rights abusers, and the truly colossal crimes of the United States, that’s been engineering and fueling wars around the planet — in the name of freedom and democracy — for over seventy years. By one estimate, the US has had a hand in the deaths of over twenty million people since the Second World War.

And any friend of the Americans can violate the law as they please. Look at Israel.

Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to territory it occupies. This is precisely what Israel has been doing for the past fifty years, colonizing occupied Palestine with over a half-million Jewish settlers, within a matrix universally referred to by independent observers as apartheid.

Apartheid is a crime against humanity under international law, so Israel’s great power friends condemn the term.

But Israel has little to worry about, other than empty condemnations by now-outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (“Israel’s settlement activity beyond the Green Line is a flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention,” he’s just said), and heartfelt expressions of “deep regret” or “grave concern” from Western capitals.

Israeli soldier defends the illegal settlement of Halamish, built on Palestinian farmland (David Kattenburg)

Israeli soldier defends the illegal settlement of Halamish, built on Palestinian farmland (David Kattenburg)

Article 49 also prohibits an occupying power from transferring occupied subjects into its own territory; into its own jails, for example — something Israel openly does.

These acts are more than simply “war crimes” under the Geneva Conventions. They are “grave breaches,” in response to which State Parties to the Convention are obliged to act.

Articles 1 and 2 of the 4th Geneva Convention state: “High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all its circumstances,” and “shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations.”

Article 146 states: “Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.”

And yet, state parties do nothing. Indeed, they lavish Israel with praise and support, and invite its leaders to address their legislatures, to thunderous applause.

Canada, a party to the Geneva Conventions since 1965, is a good example of how ostensibly law-abiding nations violate the law. “The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power,” Global Affairs Canada states at its website. And yet Canada maintains extensive trade and investment relations with Israel, valued at 1.5 billion Canadian dollars in 2014, and Canada’s House of Commons, populated by lawyers, recently condemned Canadian citizens seeking to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.

Meanwhile, at least two Canadian organizations that support West Bank settlement activity — the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Canadian Friends of Ariel University — benefit from Canadian charitable status.

Nowhere is Canadian, US and EU support for Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise more blatant than in the agricultural sector. In a 2013 publication entitled “Feasting on the Occupation,” Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq valued EU-Israel trade in illegal settlement products at 300 million US dollars.

According to Al-Haq, forty percent of Israeli settlements, “outposts” and associated industrial zones are located on land confiscated from Palestinians, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. Add to this lands rendered inaccessible to Palestinian farmers by Israel’s Separation Wall (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004), and one begins to understand the damage Israeli settlements have caused Palestinian agriculture.

Israel's Separation Wall overlooks Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem (David Kattenburg)

Israel’s Separation Wall overlooks Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem (David Kattenburg)

Stated plainly by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Canadian Michael Lynk, “Israel’s occupation is denying Palestine’s right to development.”

“This occupation — which will be 50 years old in 2017 — is seriously deficient in its respect for the legal principles and obligations embedded within the right to development,” said Lynk in a report to the UN General Assembly last Fall.

Lynk, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, clearly interprets international law differently than the Canadian government, which expressed its dismay at Lynk’s UN appointment earlier this year. “[Lynk] was not put forward by Canada and does not represent the views of this government,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stefan Dion’s office stated at the time.

He certainly doesn’t. In late November 2016, the Canadian government was one of seven countries to oppose a UN resolution entitled “Right of the Palestinian People to Self-Determination.” Canada voted against a similar resolution in December 2015 that upheld Palestinian sovereignty over their natural resources — along with Israel, the US, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.

It’s enough to make an advocate for the rule of law despair.  But Al-Haq General Director Shawan Jabarin believes he’s on the right side of history, and the law. Listen to him here: