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With International Law in the News, Could We Make the U.S. Comply?

Robert Naiman

I didn't join the chorus ridiculing the U.S. for the hypocrisy of its new romance with international law following the Russian occupation of Crimea. Even prominent Democratic activist Markos Moulitsas mocked Secretary of State Kerry for lecturing Russia on international law after voting for the illegal Iraq war. The hypocrisy charge has gotten good play.

But we shouldn't be completely content with the hypocrisy charge. There's something too easy about the charge of hypocrisy, a reason the charge is so popular. You can denounce someone for being hypocritical without taking a stand on the underlying issue.

If Russia is allowed to violate international law the way that the U.S. and Israel routinely do, it will not make the world more just. Russia may have legitimate grievances and legitimate interests in Ukraine, but as Secretary of State Kerry rightly argued - even if he was a hypocrite while doing so - that doesn't justify violating international law. We don't want to live in the world in which Russia is allowed to join the U.S.-Israel club of international law violators. We want to live in the world in which the U.S. and Israel are held to the same standards of compliance with international law to which the U.S. and Europe are now ostensibly trying to hold Russia.

So far, Europe has proven unable or unwilling to hold the U.S. and Israel to these standards. No European sanctions were imposed on U.S. officials when the U.S. illegally invaded Iraq. No European sanctions have been imposed on Israeli officials for Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank.

In its drone strike policy, the U.S. violates international law. In its Iran sanctions policy, the U.S. violates international law. In its indefinite detention policy, the U.S. violates international law. In its failure to account for the U.S. use of torture during the Bush Administration, the U.S. violates international law. In its arming of Syrian rebels, the U.S. violates international law. There have been no European sanctions against U.S. officials involved in these ongoing violations.

Yet there are things we Americans could do right now to push the U.S. closer to compliance with international law. Right now, the Senate Intelligence Committee could move to declassify its report on the CIA's use of torture, which would be a step toward accountability. Right now, Members of Congress could call on the Obama Administration to stop boycotting talks in the U.N. Human Rights Council on a resolution calling for greater transparency in the U.S. drone strike policy.

And right now, Representatives in the House could sign Representative Jim Moran's letter to President Obama, urging him to protect Iranian civilians' access to medicine from U.S. sanctions, consistent with stated U.S. policy and U.S. law, the interim agreement with Iran, and U.S. obligations under international humanitarian law. You can ask your Representative to sign the Moran letter here.


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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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