The Chilcot Report confirms what most British people knew in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite the misleading jingoism of tabloid newspapers and TV stations, it was clear that Iraq posed no threat to the West. Saddam Hussein had no involvement in Islamic terrorism and invading Iraq would likely trigger a civil war that would promote future terrorist dangers.
The boomerang from Blair's bombing was entirely predictable. Also clear was the illegality of invading another nation, if not explicitly authorised by the UN Security Council making a direct reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Yet in early 2003 this principle was under threat as the British Prime Minister pushed for a new resolution at the UN Security Council to authorise strikes. That he came close to subverting a fundamental basis of international law, non aggression between nations, shows just how dangerous the man was becoming. That he failed, helps keep open the possibility that he may one day face justice.
In 2003 I was working at the United Nations in Geneva. Tony Blair's arguments for regarding Iraq as an imminent danger, requiring us to threaten invasion, were so obviously false that many saw them as a masquerade. As Chilcot now confirms, Blair's government sought a pretext for an invasion, rather than seeing it as a last resort. As I felt the invasion was inevitable, a key concern was to ensure that Blair would not abuse the role of the UK on the UN Security Council to trash international law in a selfish effort to protect him and his administration. Additionally, some of us at the UN were concerned about what UN authorisation for a destructive invasion of a Muslim country by Western powers would do to the reputation of the UN worldwide. We were aware of the potential dangers to UN staff doing important work in difficult regions.
What could staff at the United Nations do? I had been told by many colleagues, and the Human Resources department of the UN, that international civil servants needed to remain neutral on inter-governmental disputes. In particular, they pointed out "The Status, Basic Rights and Duties of United Nations Staff Members". So I took a look. The commentary of this document explains that "international civil servants have a special calling: to serve the ideals of peace, of respect for fundamental rights, of economic and social progress and of international cooperation". Discussing with colleagues, we thought that communicating our common commitment to the UN Charter would be in accordance with the calling and status of international civil servants.
I quickly drafted a letter to send to the 10 non permanent members of the UN Security Council, expressing UN staff's ongoing support for the UN Charter. Within a day of asking, 56 staff and consultants based at 12 UN agencies had signed the following letter, which was faxed to government missions in New York in February 2003.
"Dear (non-permanent Security Council member)
As staff and consultants of the United Nations we seek to carry out our duties in promoting peace, human rights and social progress, in accordance with the Charter of this organisation. Clearly such work is complex, never complete, and can always be improved. Therefore we must all remain aware of the founding principles of the UN when conducting our work.
Today we face a unique moment in the history of the UN. We believe the current political situation challenges all of us to uphold the founding values of our organisation. As the UN Charter puts it:
"We the Peoples of the United Nations [are] determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of War... and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of man and women and nations large and small..."
That "scourge" includes the loss of life and impacts on human rights, social development, and environmental protection. Currently the world community needs to respond to famine in Africa, growing political disaffection and fundamentalism, and global economic instability. In addition, it is now widely accepted we need to combat, not contribute to, environmental degradation. These concerns are central to the UN's mandate and we believe they should be considered in any deliberations at the Security Council, as they are in other UN fora.
From the refugee camps of Guinea to environmental programmes in Sri Lanka, the success of the UN requires the trust of the people it seeks to serve. We cannot underestimate the importance of this trust for our work. The UN must remain a beacon of hope, not become a target of hate.
Therefore we are hopeful that as a Security Council member faced with the joint burden and blessing of upholding the UN's Charter, you will diligently consider the wider consequences of any decisions for the future of this institution and the world community it serves.
We write this letter to you as people involved in the UN's activities, but also as citizens of our world, in the knowledge that you can continue to uphold the hope that is at the heart of our institution.
In our personal capacities and in peace, sincerely yours."
Signatories to this letter came from relevant specialist institutions, such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme (UNOIP), United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that the US security agencies were bugging the communications of the non permanent members of the UN Security Council. Fortunately the diplomats from some smaller countries on the Security Council at the time, including Guinea and Cameroon, did not cave in to warnings about not complying with the wishes of USA and UK. They rejected a resolution to authorise an attack.
The following year, Kofi Annan stated the obvious: the attack was illegal as it was not authorised by the Security Council. So the grounds remain open for accusations of war crimes. For any crime, a key question is motive. It is why Tony Blair asks us to believe he had the best of intentions. But those who commit crimes are not taken on their word; rather we must look for evidence of a motive. I don't know the man, nor his colleagues from back then. Mo Mowlam did. In 2002 she wrote that the proponents of war know that "a war against Iraq could unleash revolutions, disposing of pro-western governments, and replacing them with populist anti-American Islamist fundamentalist regimes... it is because I am sure that they fully understand the consequences of their actions, that I am most afraid. I am drawn to the conclusion that they must want to create such mayhem." Ms Mowlam speculated on whether George Bush's government wanted this mayhem as justification for maintaining a massive military presence in the region so they could exert influence over oil producers for the next decades. Exactly why Blair and his close political allies would go along with that is bizarre. If Blair ever does face trial, then evidence for motives will need further examination.
After the release of the Chilcot report we are finally hearing some apologies. But apologies mean little if nothing is done to achieve justice, or to learn from mistakes, or put right some of the harm done. Where is the justice? Time will tell. Where are the lessons from mistakes? Just recently the UK parliament again voted for airstrikes within another state, using arguments that Britain can re-interpret international law as and when they see fit. The founding basis of the UN was to stop powerful countries deciding for themselves how to behave in matters of war. It seems Britain's parliament have still not learned the dangers of their hubris. Where is the effort to put right the harm done? Although being a major donor in the region, the UK still takes very few refugees, a heartless response given involvement in unleashing destructive forces in the region.
One minor relief is that the Bush-Blair rampage around the Middle East did not also destroy a fundamental of international law. However, without anyone being held to account, it means that the ideology of constant Western military aggression is allowed to grow. Instead, collaboration on security, policing, education, human rights and sustainable development must urgently be reinstated as the best response to extremism of any kind.
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