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Can international law truly bring the powerful to justice?

What the story of two Yemeni families who lost 34 relatives between them tells us about ‘international law’ Opinion | @TalAbdulrazaq

3/2/2021 2:00:00 PM

What the story of two Yemen i families who lost 34 relatives between them tells us about ‘ international law ’ Opinion | TalAbdulrazaq

Even though international law acknowledges that states are each other’s equals, the reality is some states are more equal than others.

by the Assad regime. In each case, you will see activists, lawyers, and journalists accuse various actors of violating international law.But what is international law? Usually, laws most people come into contact with in their day-to-day lives are formulated by political legislators (whether democratically elected or despotically imposed) and are enforced by state authorities.

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However, there is no international government, and so international law is largely composed of treaties that signatory states agree to be bound by (and by extension does not necessarily bind non-signatories) and by customary international law, the norms and practices adopted by international actors in their interactions with one another.

Without a government and a “world police”, however, international law is incredibly hard to enforce against powerful countries. Perhaps the most serious attempt at international law enforcement came by way of the United States and its insistence that it would militarily enforce its vision of what

global norms and lawsshould be. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, the US embarked upon two wars, first in Afghanistan in 2001, and then in Iraq in 2003 – neither war has ended.This sense of moral superiority and the right to inflict violence to “punish” those who did not follow Washington’s way was satirically mocked by the creators of South Park who released “Team America: World Police” in 2004. While that was obviously intended as a tongue-in-cheek parody of American foreign policy, it is accurate in depicting how Washington saw itself as a nation 'above' all other nations, even though international law acknowledges that states are each other’s equals. The reality is some states are more equal than others, and yet other states are so powerful that no one can tell them what to do.

The powerful legislate, the rest submitThis is where power comes in. If a state is sufficiently powerful and influential enough, it can pull on all sorts of levers to ensure that its officials are almost impervious to punishment, no matter what they have done while in office.

While the officials of defeated countries stood before international tribunals, such as Ratko Mladic who was found guilty of theSrebrenica genocide, the officials of powerful countries frequently evade prosecution and even get a say in what constitutes international law.

Despite numerous UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions condemning illegal settlements on Palestinian territory and disproportionate use of force that has indiscriminately killed innocent civilians Israelchaired the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee

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, a body that is primarily concerned with questions of international law. How can a state that routinely violates international law be in a position to tell other states what should or should not be considered legal? The sheer cognitive dissonance is unparalleled.

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