I just wanted to take this timely opportunity to encourage those of you who are courageous enough, to think about what you can do to encourage the United States to respect international law through outside pressure on the United States.
While I laud the efforts of those within the United States — such as the recent effort of Ben Davis and those who supported it — and hope that such efforts will continue, at the same time I am every day more and more convinced that change cannot come from within the United States, or that if it does, it will only be after countless people have died or suffered because of the failure of the US to respect international law.
This belief is based on dozens of meetings every year with senior American officials, with senior diplomats, and with senior foreign government officials. And it is based on meeting and representing some of the most downtrodden people in the world and advising some of those who are among the most persecuted by the United States, often even called terrorists by our government.
Many, many other governments–even friends of the United States — at their highest levels believe that the United States is very harmful for international law and must be forced to change through outside pressure. Some believe this pressure must be radical, others believe that this pressure must be slow and careful. But that there is a significant international consensus that recognizes the harm the United States is doing and recognizes the need for it to change, is something that I hope will encourage you.
If you are an honest international lawyer–one who at least believes in the supremacy of international over domestic law and who believes that domestic law can never be used as an excuse for violating international law and who believes that international law is formed and interpreted through the consensus of all states and not unilaterally–than speak to the diplomats in the United States or to other foreign government officials. Speak to them cautiously and seeking to learn from them and to understand them and I will bet that every one of them will indicate serious problems with the United States government’s understanding of international law. And if you get close to them they might also share with you what they are doing to correct these problems or if you study international affairs enough you will undoubtedly see the often weak, but constant, efforts.
More strikingly, if you can, travel to countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Senegal, Malawi, Mozambique, or South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Palestine, Iran, or Jordan. Don’t stay in the four or five star hotels everyday, but spend a couple of nights in mosques, sleeping on the floor with other travellers and those who have no other shelter. Speak to them–you can usually find an English speaker–ask them why their country is poor, ask them if they think the United States was right to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan, ask them if they respect George W. Bush, and most importantly, ask them if they think the United States respects international law. Then tell us their answers to this last question.
If you are a professor teach abroad in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East or a semester or even a few weeks in the summer and learn from your guests. Speak to the government officials in the country you are in and to the opposition figures. Ask them the same questions. Or spend a few years at a university in Libya or even Saudi Arabia and get to know your students better then in the mere formalities of the classroom. Volunteer to speak with their student groups, meet civil society, the lawyers’ unions, the teachers unions, the religious leaders. even volunteer to advise the governments. ask them the same questions. Spend one weekend every month seeking out the refugees and the displaced and ask them the same questions.
And even contemplate why you feel scared as your plane must nose dives 10,000 feet to avoid being shot down; or why you get guns pointed at you by American soldiers; or why you cannot go home for a few hours because your neighbour is being raided and innocent men and women and children rounded up some to be disappeared; or why an Ethiopian living on US$2 per day pays more for fresh water produced in the USA, than you do; or why many people look at you with hatred when they learn you are an American. And after you think about this, think about what you can do.
I am asking you to please consider making an effort to strengthen the ability to those outside the United States to be able to pressure the
United States to respect the law. There are many, many ways that you can do this. As international lawyers it is probably one of our most
Unless international law starts to respond to the concerns of the people who are effected by it most, it will lose relevance. Unless you as Americans or with an interest in America and in international law, start to understand the problem and start to understand that the solution is not from within but from without, the problem may continue for a long, long time, causing misery for generations of people, and the deaths of many people.
Please think about the truth and gravity of the fact that the United States has violated more peoples’ human rights in more serious ways with more impunity than any other country in the world. What does this say about international law to the person living on 5 dollars a week in some far off country, when he or she is offered the chance to hurt American interests and to perhaps violate international law?
Dr. CURTIS F.J. DOEBBLER is an Iinternational human rights lawyer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org