Several hours ago, the UN Secretary-General engaged in the annual ringing of the Peace Bell on the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, outside the UN General-Secretariat Building in New York City—a “special occasion,” he remarked, the 21st being International Peace Day, and 2004 the 50th Anniversary of the Bell’s gift to the UN by the Government of Japan. “We need to keep working to strengthen the system of collective security,” Kofi Annan continued, previewing a major theme of his address before the General Assembly later the same morning, “and to make sure it is up to the task of meeting the threats of the 21st Century.” (SG/SM/9490)
Since last Wednesday, September 15, when Kofi Annan, visiting London, told an interviewer over BBC World Service radio that the American (and British) war over Iraq was “not in conformity with the UN Charter,” and “illegal,” I have been scrolling up and down the official website of the Secretary-General in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this apparently principled assessment of the criminality of the war might enter the UN’s massive archives, and stand, however feeble, as a thumbprint on behalf of the rule of law in international affairs, rather than the law of the jungle. (At least in the jungle, the animals don’t pretend to be moral.)
To date, nothing in Annan’s own voice with respect to his remarks over the BBC seven-daily-news cycles ago has entered the UN’s archives. Not even a peep. Instead, all that we have heard since then is the voice of Annan’s official spokesman, Fred Eckhard (“Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General,” Sept. 16):
Question: Ok, on Iraq. Was the Secretary-General trying to send a message when he said the Iraq war was illegal, and was this the first time he said the word, “illegal?”
Spokesman: He has, over the past more than a year, used the words “not in conformity with the Charter” to describe his view of the Iraq war. And, of course, one of his purposes in establishing the High-Level Panel on Change was to look at the question of preventive war and try to bring that in conformity with the Charter principles, which do not permit preventive war.
I can give you some quotes: In The Hague, on 10 March 2003, he said, “I think that under today’s world order, the Charter is very clear on circumstances under which force can be used. I think the discussion going on in the Council is to ensure that the Security Council, which is the master of its own deliberations, is able to pronounce itself on what happens. If the US and others were to go outside the Council and take military action it would not be in conformity with the Charter.”
April 2 of that year: “That is why”, he told a group of journalists, “the legitimacy of this action [the war] has been questioned, and widely questioned, and I myself have raised questions about it. I have raised questions about the legitimacy and whether it was in conformity with the Charter.”
March 8 of this year, again, comments to journalists, “I myself indicated”, he said, “that a war would not be in conformity with the Charter and the credibility of any such action would be widely questioned and the legitimacy would be widely questioned. And this is what happened.”
So the conformity with the Charter language has been his consistent position. I think if you saw the interview, you saw that the Secretary-General was quite reluctant to use that word and in the end, after repeated pressure from the interviewer, he said, when the final question was, “Is it illegal?” he said, “Yes, I have indicated it is not in conformity with the UN Charter; from our point of view and from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.”
Question: The SG may have said that many, many times over about the legitimacy of the war in Iraq, but is his recent statement to the BBC likely to place the issue, to highlight it to the General Assembly?
Spokesman: I don’t think that’s his intention. Since the war, he has been emphasizing the need for the nations on the Security Council and in the UN membership as a whole, to pull together to deal with the situation in Iraq, saying, “It is in everyone’s interest that stability be restored to Iraq.” So, once the invasion took place, he didn’t look back. He looked forward.
But the principle of the Charter called into question, in his view, by the invasion, needs to be addressed in a serious way, and that’s why he asked the High-Level Panel to look specifically at that issue. That panel is supposed to report by the end of this year, and the Secretary-General will formulate its recommendations and put them to the General Assembly next year.
Question: Is it his concern now that he said it at this particular time that it may be forced to be on the minds of heads of State here next week?
Spokesman: I don’t think he would want to anticipate any particular results such as that of his comments yesterday. He feels it’s no different from what he’s been saying for more than a year, and that position is very well known to member governments.
Question: Can you give us more information about illegal action in Iraq. In that interview, it is (inaudible) is the first question. The second is, will the Security Council (inaudible) a new draft resolution on the Sudan tomorrow?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General said, as recently as yesterday, that the decision on the elections in Iraq is to be made by the Iraqis themselves, by the independent Iraqi Electoral Commission. So that is their judgement call.
You’ll have to ask the President of the Council what his expectation is regarding a vote on the draft resolution on the Sudan, that the Council is now considering.
Question: Do you think Annan’s comments are a non-story?
Spokesman: We see nothing new in it.
Well. We can’t fault Fred Eckhard for not having come prepared to this news conference. Still. A critical point needs to be raised here, and not let go of. Never again.
On a question as important to international peace and security as the criminal, and still-unfolding, American-led war over Iraq, the official website of the Secretary-General has shown less concern with the indictment as handed down by the Secretary-General himself on September 15, than with his official press spokesman’s efforts the next day to dismiss the Secretary-General’s remarks, and to urge the rest of the world to grow up and get on with more pressing affairs.
As the crisis in Iraq continues to escalate, and as the American occupiers continue to resort to ever-more lethal degrees of violence against the Iraqi population, the armed resistance and civilians alike, on a near-daily basis, this war’s origins in a Nuremberg-class crime against the peace never ought to be forgotten. Not by me. Not by you. Above all, not by the Americans.
But this is exactly what the Secretary-General‘s website and press functions encourage.
In my opinion, this constitutes nothing less than a crime against the truth.
“Call of Peace Bell ‘Has Remained Constant, Clear and True,’ Says Secretary-General at Annual Headquarters Ceremony” (SG/SM/9490), September 21, 2004
“Rule of Law at Risk Around the World, Says Secretary-General in Address to General Assembly” (SG/SM/9491-GA/10258), September 21, 2004
“Excerpts: Annan interview,” BBC News Online, September 16, 2004
Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General (Self-explanatory)
“Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General,” September 16, 2004
How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, Michael Mandel (Pluto Press, 2004)
“How America Gets Away With Murder, by Michael Mandel” (book review), Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, July/August, 2004
“How America Gets Away With Murder” I, ZNet Blogs, August 25
“How America Gets Away With Murder” II, ZNet Blogs, September 1
“Power Harnessed to Legitimacy,” ZNet Blogs, September 2
The United Nations According to New York Time, ZNet Blogs, September 15
“How America Gets Away With Murder” III, ZNet Blogs, September 16