by Mona El-Nahhas | Al-Ahram Weekly | 10-16 april 2003
Arab lawyers are seeking to have George Bush and Tony Blair stand trial as war criminals.
Filled with rage at the brutal military aggression against Iraq, the Arab Lawyers Federation in coordination with the Egyptian Bar Association are now preparing a lawsuit that they intend to file with international courts against US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes in Iraq.
In addition to the lawsuit, the Bar Association will organise a symbolic trial of Bush and Blair in Egypt before the end of April. It will be a people's trial, said Mohamed Toson, deputy chairman of the Bar Association, and will aim to show the public the true face of the new world order.
"Representatives of Arab syndicates, international legal organisations and civil society organisations will take part in the trial," Toson said.
The Arab Lawyers Federation has not yet decided with which court the lawsuit will be filed. Sameh Ashour, chairman of both the Arab Lawyers Federation and the Egyptian Bar Association, said, "We are now in the process of collecting documents proving [Bush and Blair's] horrible crimes against the Iraqi people." Ashour added that the team working on the case, including several prominent lawyers, will refer to historical trials of war criminals as precedents in preparing their arguments.
The federation will submit a communiqué to the prosecutor-general of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands, which is authorised to preside over cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. According to Article 42 of the ICC's statutes, the prosecutor-general will study the content of the communiqué and decide whether to refer it to the court for a hearing or to dismiss it. If the lawsuit is dismissed by the ICC, it may be filed with either the French or Belgian courts.
The action is likely to be of largely symbolic value, however. "Let's be realistic. We have to bear in mind that there will be many legal obstacles in trying Bush and Blair," Salah Amer international law professor told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"First of all, we cannot file such kinds of lawsuits while military operations are still going on [in Iraq]. We have to wait in order to get an accurate assessment that will be helpful in the documentation process. Secondly, we have to prove that it's Bush and Blair and not top American and British military commanders who are responsible for committing war crimes such as bombing markets, killing civilians or using internationally-banned weapons," Amer said.
Even if it is able to establish that the crimes were committed, the ICC would not be authorised to summon the US president for trial, he said.
Amer pointed out the fact that in 2002 the US withdrew its signature from the 2000 Rome Convention concerning the ICC. "In this way, the US ceased to be a party to the ICC convention," he said. However, he said that Bush and top US military commanders could stand trial before a court in one of the European countries that has amended its laws in order to try war criminals according to the principle of universal jurisdiction.
"Belgium would be the best site for Bush [to be tried]. As for Blair, he could stand trial before the ICC because the UK has endorsed the court's convention. But how could we guarantee that the trial would be fair?" Amer asked.
International law professor Ahmed Abul-Wafa insisted that the Belgian courts would not have the authority to try top officials. "This could happen only after they leave their posts. Bush could not stand trial as long as he is in power and enjoying immunity," he said.
Abul-Wafa also said that the Lawyers Federation has no authority to take legal action against Bush and Blair. "It's the Iraqi government or the Iraqi people who should take such a step after submitting the necessary documents proving that the harm was done to them," he said.
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