C-440: War Resisters versus War Criminals

Posted: October 2, 2010 in Human Rights, Peace, War

Michael Ignatieff and Co. can’t get enough criticism for their desertion of Bill  C-440 to suit me. But let’s not deny the  Tories their fair share of the shame. Against the will of most Canadians, the Tories have conducted a campaign of persecution against American war resisters since coming to power. In their slavish admiration of American imperialism, they ignore important aspects of international law. In their eagerness to crawl into bed with war criminals, they are complicit in some of the most horrendous crimes against humanity of this century.

The Tories spare no effort to prevent war resisters from exercising their right to conscientious objection. Wednesday’s defeat of Bill C-440, to which they unanimously voted “nay” is just the most recent example. Because the War Resisters Support Campaign web site is replete with examples of the Tory pogrom against conscientious objectors, I won’t deal with that here.

Instead, I want to address the standard Tory refrain that war resisters are “cowards” or “deserters” who should shut up, stay in the army and keep killing or rot in an American prison.

Nazis, Nuremberg and Numb Tory Memories

Despite their “Conservative” label, the Tories have forgotten important aspects of our shared history, chief among them the Second World War and the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946. In 1950, the UN International Law Commission codified the legal principles that emerged during these trials. The Tories would do well to acquaint themselves with the Nuremberg Principles because they are key to understanding why American war resisters should be granted sanctuary in Canada.

Principle VI states,

“The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:
(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

(b) War crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation of slave labor or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory; murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the Seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

(c) Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.”

A “war of aggression” is a military conflict waged without the justification of self-defense or the sanction of the United Nations. Under the Nuremberg Principles, a war of aggression is a “crime against peace.” The invasion of Iraq, perpetrated by the U.S. and its allies under the guise of protecting the world against non-existent weapons of mass destruction meets the definition of a “crime against peace.”

I have italicized those portions which apply to this invasion, a crime of overwhelming proportions which resulted in the destruction of a nation, the displacement of almost four million people and the death of an estimated 1.3 million. War resisters are refusing to participate in this crime, and who can blame them?

What of the Tory argument that war resisters signed a contract with the U.S. military and therefore should honour their contract (i.e., kill Iraqis in a “crime against peace”)?

Nuremberg Principle 4 provides some guidance. It states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”.

In other words, to say your were “just following orders” is no defense. War resisters understand this. They have made a conscientious decision to refuse to participate in this massive crime against humanity. War resisters embody the Nuremberg Principles; most Canadians recognize this and welcome them to our country.

Canada’s obligation to protect refugees

Canada is a signatory to, and therefore legally required to follow, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. Article 33 says:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular  social group or political opinion.”

If war resisters are not “political refugees” I don’t know who is. There is no question that they face imprisonment if returned to the U.S. because a number of them have been deported and subsequently jailed. It is clear that Canada is in violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

What now?

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are committed to deporting every American war resister they can find, regardless of Canadian public opinion or international law. Harper was an early hawk on Iraq, and there is no reason to believe he has modified his position.

Short of replacing them in the next election, we will not resolve this issue satisfactorily.

The situation is further complicated by the actions of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and a small gang of liberal MPs who absented themselves from Wednesday’s House of Commons vote on Bill C-440, thereby dooming it to defeat (143-136). I’m not a Liberal, but I sincerely hope the 57 Liberal MPs who voted for C-440 rouse their party to get rid of him. For more than a few reasons, he’s a liability Liberals can no longer afford.

In the near term, the best we can manage is to provide moral and material support to the War Resisters Support Campaign. That’s plenty enough to keep us busy.

  1. L-girl says:

    Thanks for this great post. Let them all stay!

  2. Alon says:

    Of course the Conservatives are to be shamed, but they are a shameful bunch and we know it. What needs to be made clear is that so are the Liberals under Ignatieff, letting a bill like this die while still voting for it, just not in enough numbers.

    Ignatieff is speaking on Thursday at 6:30 at Tyndall Park Community school, and Harper is also in town. A real smorgasbord of BS Ottawa politicians. My priority is to take down Iggy. Harper will fall of his own snotty accord.

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