International criminal courts must not be misused

International criminal courts must not be misused

Interview with Dick Marty *, conducted on 2 October 2015 – the morning show of the French Swiss RTS –“Radio Télévision Suisse”

Simon Matthey-Doret (RTS): It is a great premiere for international justice. Two weeks ago the prosecutor of Paris  opened a criminal investigation into crimes against humanity against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. As yesterday officially confirmed, this investigation is based mainly on photos of corpses who had been tortured; a former photographer of the Syrian military police had delivered them. For the French diplomacy, this is about nothing less than the responsibility to take action against impunity. Our guest will certainly not deny this principle, but instead will confirm it. Live from the studio in Geneva, we are pleased to welcome the former President of the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commission: Dick Marty, good morning.

Dick Marty: Good morning.

Thank you that you will be talking with us until 8 clock. You have been, in  the first place, Councillor of the Ticino Council of States, but also public prosecutor of the Canton Ticino. The reason for you to be in Geneva today is the 20th anniversary of the Fondation Hirondelle, which  supports independent media in war-torn countries or countries with violent conflicts, mainly in Africa. You are member of this organisation’s board of trustees.  We’ll talk about this later, in particular about the information on conflicts and the freedom of information.
    But with respect to the opening of the French criminal investigation into crimes against humanity against the government of Bashar al-Assad: Is this not an important signal against impunity? Have you welcomed this step, although there is probably little chance of success?

You will probably be surprised, but I’m very little convinced by this approach. I believe that it is rather part of the French strategy of throwing itself into a pose, since – so  my impression – it is desperately trying to play a certain role in the Syrian dossier. Undeniably, absolutely horrifying crimes have been and are being committed in Syria every day. But to say the perpetrator was only Bashar al-Assad, is a completely arbitrary constriction. I also believe that we must admit that we are very ill-informed about this conflict, and that the information at our disposal is often one-sided and very often manipulated.

“Throwing oneself into a pose” is a pretty strong expression. The position of President Hollande is known: We must not negotiate with Bashar al-Assad – even if the Russians and maybe even the Americans have a different view. But that does not mean that, because he is not the only offender, he should not be taken to court? Or would you say that no such measure, no criminal investigations into crimes against humanity should be opened because Bashar al-Assad is not the only one?

There defiinitely must be a criminal investigation into the events in Syria. However, everybody knows that there is not only one perpetrator. So, if an investigation is initiated against one culprit only, the affair becomes a one-sided process, a process which is hardly  objective. That’s all. I think the first thing to do is to collect information and to try to find evidence, but with respect to the actions of all those involved. I am speaking of the French throwing themselves into a pose, because I am quite shocked by the attitude of France. The Socialist Hollande, who went head over heels to the Saudi King’s funeral, who sold Rafale warplanes to the Saudis – he is now selling the Rafale planes and warships to Egypt, as well as other aircrafts to Qatar. These are all dictatorial regimes, where basic human rights are  seriously violated. This kind of doublespeak really annoys me.

This is very interesting. What is behind this doublespeak, these double standards? Actually, you are right, he sold weapons to Saudi Arabia, however he does not want to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad – this is precisely an example for performing “realpolitik”, isn’t it. What interest should France have to speak with two tongues?

I think he has a “complex of the little man” who is left behind sitting in a corner. He is desperately trying to find attention. I do not think that this is realpolitik. In my opinion, realpolitik is made especially by the Russians and the Americans, today. I am of the opinion that we should learn the lessons from what has happened in Iraq and Libya. Unquestionably, two tyrants ruled there. Previously we spoke of tyrants, these two were truly tyrants!

Bashar al-Assad is not a tyrant, Dick Marty?

I shall come back to that.


But what did they do with these two tyrants? The country was bombed. There was never a lot of talking about this, but it was a huge business for the arms manufacturers. They blew them off, and what is the result? It is tragic to have to say that, it’s really tragic: The people of Iraq and in Libya had a better life before, better  than today! That’s the result! So if you want to intervene in these countries, it must be done with tact and in an intelligent way, without believing that everything can be solved with bombs.

So the Americans are drawing lessons from the events in Iraq, Libya, etc.

I hope so.

I am now returning to my question. Is Bashar al-Assad a tyrant, yes or no? We have just talked about the term dictator and its significance. Would you call Bashar al-Assad a tyrant?

Listen, I just don’t know. I was in Syria four or five years ago. I met Bashar al-Assad. I talked to him for an hour. Of course, not all monsters look like monsters. He is an ophthalmologist. He had no intention of becoming head of state. You know the story: It was his brother who was to take over this task. But he had a fatal accident. Bashar al-Assad, the ophthalmologist from London, had to return in a hurry to take over this task. He is of course a dictator…

He shot his own people…

…yes, but how many people are shooting their own peoples these days. He is an actor on the Syrian stage. And if one wants to achieve something and not just destroy things, one has to talk with these people.

This is exactly what they call “realpolitik”, even if you do not like this term. Returning to François Hollande, could one say that his behaviour in this conflict demonstrates that he has no idea of history in a comprehensive sense?

I don’t know… I admit, between Sarkozy and Hollande I would have voted for Hollande, eventually. But I find him disappointing. He is just sadly mediocre, that is all.

What a terrible statement! Dick Marty, if we return to this criminal investigation, if  he was ever convicted in the case – what would be the significance of it?

First there would have to be a court qualified to do this. We do not yet have such a court. I think the women, children and men living in Syria should have top priority – there has to be a solution to stop the bombing and the massacres. This is top priority. We should not resort to the judiciary in order to show off. Since before going to court – a trial can only be conducted quietly and dispassionately – we first have to address the humanitarian problem.

So a mission with ground troops on site is needed? I am asking this question knowing that you are not an expert on military matters. But from a political viewpoint: Do we need a ground intervention in Syria – in consensus between the East and the West?

Yes, I think that such an intervention, with the task to protect the civil population, is necessary.

And doing so without misusing the judiciary. That is what you are telling us, Dick Marty. Is justice possible? Is it possible to enforce international law against these crimes or will the perpetrators go unpunished forever?

This is really the question. Because an international judiciary bound to conflicts is often tinctured with victor’s justice. And victor’s justice is not a real justice. Of course there were the Nuremberg trials which were positive overall, but even they left a bitter aftertaste. In the last weeks of World War II, the allied bombed the town centres of the most important German cities. These were no military goals. They were directed against the civil population. It was a war crime…

And there was also Hiroshima…

…and there was also Hiroshima, of course. And rationales were constructed in order to justify these acts. However, these are war crimes which  remained completely unpunished, because they were committed by the victors. The victors’ acts are always motivated by military reasons while the defeated are murderers by definition. In Nuremberg the convicted were horrible murderers, we do not have to discuss this. Remember that Churchill did not want a trial. He wanted to execute them immediately.

That was his view as a fighter in the war in India. But finally, Dick Marty, can we image that one Bashar al-Assad remains unpunished, for several years, just like this, as the leader of Syria or in some golden exile country? Can we imagine this?

No, I do not think so. But it is most important to find a transition solution, a controlled transition, avoiding the mistakes of Iraq where everything was destroyed. Libya does no longer exist. Previously, there had been hundreds, thousands, millions of people who had lived quite well in Iraq and in Libya…

But with little freedom. Little freedom of the press, little freedom to demonstrate…

…but they had something to eat. They could walk outside without getting hit by a bomb. They could go to work on their fields without being hurt or even killed by landmines. All this does no longer  exist. There is no government, no administration in Libya… and this is the result of the bombings. At that time it was Sarkozy who wanted this.
[In the following the interview turns away from the situation in Syria, turning to the Swiss Hirondelle Foundation, an NGO by journalists and experts for humanitarian aid which, in cooperation with the UN, supports independent radio stations in crisis and war regions. Editor’s note]    •

* Dick Marty, born in 1945, is a Swiss politician and former state prosecutor of the Canton of Ticino. From 1995 to 2011 he represented the Canton of Ticino in the Swiss Council of State. He is a former member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a member of the OSCE-Commission on Human Rights. As a special investigator of the Council of Europe on the CIA, Dick Marty uncovered the CIA secret prisons in Europe.

Source: RTS – Radio Télévision Suisse [SRF – Swiss Radio and TV], “Journal du matin”, 2 Oct. 2015

(Translation Current Concerns)

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