Published on Sunday, April 28, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
A Silent Revolution Is Underway in Human Rights, Activist Says
by Seth Sandronsky
|There is a quiet revolution happening in human rights. Just ask Laurie King-Irani.
King-Irani is the North American coordinator of an international effort to indict Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israelis and Lebanese for a massacre committed nearly two decades ago in Lebanon. Some of the survivors filed a complaint last June in a Belgian court against the Israeli leader.
The survivors allege that the September 16-18, 1982 massacre in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Phalangist fighters and the Israeli military was planned, enabled and directed by Sharon, then Israel’s defense minister and the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces. Israel had invaded Lebanon on June 4, 1982 after an attack on an Israeli official in London.
At the beginning of the onslaught against the refugees three months later, Israeli forces sealed off and surrounded both camps. Those trapped inside were defenseless Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.
Then, Israeli officials claimed that they were pursuing terrorists. Recently, Israeli officials made a similar claim before attacking the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, where evidence of another atrocity by Israeli forces is emerging, according to the April 25 London Independent.
In 1982, Mrs. Sana Mahmoud Sersawi lived in the Sabra camp. According to her statement in the complaint against Sharon: “The Israelis submitted the young people to an interrogation, and the Phalangists delivered 200 people to them. And that’s how neither my husband nor my sister’s husband ever came back.”
Mrs. Amal Hussein is another plaintiff who survived but lost family members, including her brother and two sisters. She stated that: “All of a sudden, the armed Phalangists invaded the area. No one could leave the house. All we could hear was the screaming of babies and women screaming. They started killing people.”
The complaint against Sharon includes the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (http://www.mallat.com/articles/comp.htm). According to Chilbi Mallat, counsel for the plaintiffs, “In international law, command responsibility—also known as indirect responsibility—is more severe than the responsibility of those who actually do the killing.”
Such principles of universal justice were applied to German Nazi officials. They crafted policies of genocide against Jews and others during World War II.
Violations of civilians' human rights during armed conflicts or in situations of military occupation are, by definition, crimes of war. However, King-Irani noted that this principle of international justice has not been equally enforced.
“Nobody has been punished or tried for these crimes in Lebanon,” said King-Irani during a recent speaking tour in Northern California. “This is an indication that the public has little knowledge of this.”
In particular, the American people are under-informed about such history. Their scant knowledge fits with the Israeli version of the past and present echoed by compliant U.S. corporate news media, reliant on official sources and dismissive of others.
Nevertheless, the case against Sharon is revolutionizing the world’s notion of universal justice, said King-Irani. The plaintiffs in the Sharon complaint are proof of that: regular people bringing charges of war crimes against the head of a legal state.
By contrast, during the Cold War, nation-states were sole arbiters of international law, a process rarely exercised. But that was then.
Now, activists around the world are complementing the efforts of the Sharon plaintiffs.
Peter Tatchell is a human rights activist who has sought the arrest of Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, for the "killing, injuring and displacement" of 3 million people in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during America’s Vietnam War, a violation of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.
Activists have also been the driving force behind the indictment of Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former leader who was indicted in Spain in Oct. 1998. Pinochet led the U.S.-backed military overthrow of the nation’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973, resulting in the deaths of thousands, Chileans and Americans.
King-Irani said that a final pre-trial hearing in the complaint against Sharon is set for May 15, with lawyers for the plaintiffs making their final arguments. By this July, the Belgian court will rule if the complaint can proceed.
The legal immunity of the world’s tyrants is being tested by people who share a common belief in the virtue of human rights. The complaint against Sharon is part of that silent revolution, indeed.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramentos progressive newspaper firstname.lastname@example.org