Thursday, December 11, 2008

Truly ambitious

John Key talks a lot about how he is "ambitious for New Zealand". Last night, I listened to the opening speech of an MP who seems to be truly ambitious for this country: Dr Kennedy Graham. In his first speech before the House, he called for Parliament to adopt a truly ambitious goal and forever forswear war except in self-defence or the defence of others in accordance with the UN Charter:

Above all, it is time we abided strictly by the global constitution of our times, working within coalitions of the lawful rather than the unwilling. Sixty-three years ago, our forefathers created the United Nations to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war that, twice in their lifetime, had brought untold suffering to humankind. Under the UN Charter, ‘war’ has been rendered unlawful. Today, armed force may no longer be used by Member States save in the common interest. By adopting the Charter each Member State, including New Zealand, undertakes never to commit aggression.

It is time to ensure that we live up to our binding international obligations. It is time that the state responsibility New Zealand has assumed not to commit aggression is implemented in domestic legislation. Over the years we have translated international obligations into our own legislation – in 1946 to abide by economic sanctions of the Security Council, in 1987 to forswear nuclear weapons. In 2002, we made it a criminal offence for any New Zealander to commit genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.

Now is the time to take the next step – to make it a crime in domestic law for any New Zealander, including its leaders, to commit aggression, as defined by the UN General Assembly in 1974. This requires simply the adoption, by this House, of legislation to that effect.

(Emphasis added).

The definition Graham refers to is UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 (full text here). It defines "aggression" as

the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations
and includes a non-exhaustive list of examples. The crime of aggression is within the scope of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (its listed specifically in Article 5 (1) (d)), but is currently undefined. A conference of parties is supposed to meet to agree a definition in early 2010, and any definition would have to be added to our International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act 2000. But until then, or if the COP can't agree a definition (and I am cynical about their ability to do so), we should adopt the UN General Assembly's definition to create a crime in domestic law. It would be a tremendous statement of our principles, on the level of the nuclear ban in the 80's, as well as implementing something we agreed to do back in 1948. And I'm hoping we'll see a member's bill from Graham on the topic in the future.