Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In the ballot XXVI: Outlawing aggression

In his opening speech, Green MP Kennedy Graham proposed a truly ambitious plan for New Zealand: outlawing the international crime of 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.

Graham's bill for this - the International Non-Aggression and Lawful Use of Force Bill - appeared in the ballot last week. He officially released it yesterday, and it does exactly what it says on the label, defining aggression and making it a criminal offence punishable by ten years' imprisonment for any New Zealand leader to
plan, prepare, initiate or execute an act of aggression which by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
It contains a specific exemption for force exercised in individual or collective self-defence or authorised by the UN Security Council, and creates a special prosecutor for aggression as an independent agent who can bring charges. The latter is likely to be the biggest problem with the bill, as I don't think anyone would ever really expect it to be used, making such a position unjustifiable. OTOH, in the event we did have to use it, the government cannot be left to prosecute itself.

Oh, and as a bonus, the bill requires the Attorney-General to provide a written legal opinion to both the government and the House before any decision to commit the NZDF to any action involving the use of force. That would be worth a bill on its own.

This is a solid and worthy bill, and one I hope is drawn and passed. At Nuremberg, the US prosecutor, Robert Jackson, said that aggression was "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". It is outlawed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but its parties have not yet agreed on a definition to bring the clause into effect. But our acceptance of the ICC does not stop us outlawing it in domestic law as well - and given our support of international law and our love of peace, it is one we should take as soon as possible.