Monday, February 25, 2008

The US and International Law

I was in Skopje when, last Thursday, the demonstration organised by the Serbian Government to protest against the unilateral declaration of independence of its Southern province of Kosovo ended up with a group of violent protesters breaking away from a largely non-violent mass action and targeting the American embassy, making it into the compound, setting fire and tearing down the American flag. I watched all this live, on Macedonian television. In spite of my efforts and eagerness to learn it, I still don’t understand much of the Macedonian language and, therefore, one of the few things I understood well from the whole emission was the statement of the US Ambassador to the United Nations claiming that he was outraged by the “mob attack” against the embassy and that it was the Government of Serbia’s responsibility, “under international law”, to protect diplomatic facilities in Belgrade. I have to say that he’s right. And I can even add that the pictures of that Thursday evening in Belgrade made me sad and many of my Serbian friends ashamed. The most interesting aspect of Mr Khalilzad’s statement, however, is the extraordinary acknowledgment by someone from the Bush administration that there is such thing as international law! After all, the international law was never invoked to address the prison camps at Guantanamo, the wide use of torture, the invasion and occupation of sovereign countries or the extraordinary rendition program… Yes, the Serbian government should have prevented the embassy from being torched and ransacked; but the US has little moral authority not just in invoking international law, but also in invoking international law when speaking about attacks on embassies in Belgrade… Or did they already forget that, back in 1999, they bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese citizens, including two journalists? If the US was serious about international law and the protection of embassies, those responsible for that bombing would have been tried at The Hague, along with other alleged war criminals. International law matters only when it is convenient for the US… If you don’t believe it, just ask the Kurds, or the Palestinians. In a moment in which the candidate Clinton tries so hard to show her differences towards President Bush, the quick recognition of Kosovo’s independence gives a powerful reminder of a fact that it is too often overlooked these days: the American empire is bipartisan. George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have never hesitated to use the same tactics, the same rhetoric and the same bombs to defend and expand it. One more reason to support Obama!


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