When the “Good Guys” Censor

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. “

On 21 March I was called by Sputnik and interviewed concerning the war in Ukraine.  On 22 March the article was published under this electronic link

When I tried to access the link, the server informed me that

“This site can’t be reached. sputniknews.com took too long to respond”

I was surprised, since I reside in Switzerland, which is a party to the ICCPR and obliged to guarantee the two rights enunciated in article 19:

1) the right to seek information and ideas

2) and the right to impart and disseminate them

When I sent the link to friends in the United States, they too could not access the link, although the United States is also a party to ICCPR.  “Currently unable to access the article on google’s server in the US”.

What is going on?  Democracy can only function properly when citizens have access to all the information, perspectives and points of view, so that they can arrive at their own opinions.  Freedom of expression does not mean the right to echo whatever information and narratives we hear from our governments or from the “quality press”, but encompasses the right to dissent from those views.  In order to build one’s own judgment about facts and events, we need pluralistic news services.

It appears that censorship is being practised both by governments that ostensibly declare themselves to be “democratic” and also by the private sector, including twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  This kind of censorship is unworthy of democratic societies and should be condemned by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, by the UN Human Rights Council, by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders.

Censorship is exactly the wrong approach.  Precisely now, in the midst of a military confrontation that may endanger the entire planet and the survival of humanity, it is necessary to have a maximum of information and views.  In particular it is necessary to have access to sedate analysis based on the UN Charter and international law.  We must endeavour to understand the options, the nuances and the dissenting views in order to grasp the complexities of the problems, which are certainly not black and white. We must beware not join “patriotic” bandwagons, not to go down the path of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

How can the EU criticise censorship in Russia and China, when European countries also practice censorship? 

Here is the text of the censored interview;

On 19 March 2003, Washington’s Operation Shock and Awe started under a completely false pretext. You say that there has been no violation of the Nuremberg Principles as grave as the invasion, occupation and devastation of Iraq in 2003. What do you mean?

It was a veritable revolt against the Nuremberg Principles, international law and the international order, the cumulation of the crimes of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity– and all this in total impunity.  The vastness of the operation, the viciousness of the bombardment, the destruction of world heritage sites and museums, the use of white phosphorus and cluster bombs, widespread torture at Abu Ghraib and other prisons including Guantanamo, the “extraordinary rendition” program – all this constituted “shock and awe” upon Iraqi victims, a demonstration of imperial power intended to convince the world of America’s hegemony. It was not only the incompetent President George W. Bush and his hawkish neo-con advisors who were behind this atrocity.  Bush pulled in the “coalition of the willing”  – 43 countries ostensibly committed to international law and human rights,  Bush made them into accomplices in the assault against a hapless country and its population.  The purpose was “regime change”, to topple the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, to steal Iraqi oil and strengthen NATO’s geopolitical presence in the Middle East.  It was indeed “shock and awe” in the collective devastation of a country that was not threatening anyone.

Let us not forget that the UN Security Council was already seized of the Iraqi situation since 1991, that there was no reason, no urgency to do anything against the government of Iraq that was already cooperating with the UN.  Two United Nations inspectors were performing their job on the ground — systematically searching for weapons of mass destruction — and not finding any.  Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei were both threatened by the United States to induce them to make a false finding that Saddam Hussein was in “material breach” of the relevant Security Council resolutions. This would have provided an “excuse”, a mantle of legality for the US to invade Iraq with the blessing of the Security Council.  But Blix and ElBaradei did not deliver the magic words “material breach”, and the UN had to withdraw its inspectors, because it became apparent that the US would attack with or without approval by the Security Council. The whole operation was criminal and deliberate.  It is a disgrace that 90% of the Western media supported “shock and awe” and disseminated the fake news and intelligence coming from Washington and London.  Clearly George W. Bush and Tony Blair should have been sent before an international criminal tribunal.  But no.  There was total impunity for them and for the other “leaders” of democratic countries who participated in the bombing and looting.  Only a Peoples’ Tribunal at Kuala Lumpur could be convened, and the judges did convict both Bush and Blair.

According to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, the Western media played a great role in whitewashing the illegal US campaign. What’s your take on the role of the Western media in world affairs, given that it still remains mute about eight-year long genocide of Russian-speakers in Donbass, and peddling untruthful and distorted narrative of Russian special operation today? 

The Western media is complicit in NATO’s crimes not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Our corporate media (I am an American citizen) engages in flagrant war propaganda and incitement to hatred – in 2003 against Iraq and the Iraqi people who supported Saddam Hussein, and today against, Russia and Russians, who are depicted as aggressors and gross violators of human rights.  This Russophobic propaganda did not start in 2022 – it has a long history going back to the 1950’s and Joe McCarthy, going back to the demonization of Brezhnev and Andropov, and more recently of Vladimir Putin. The media systematically violates article 20(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits war propaganda, and article 20(2) which prohibits incitement to racial hatred and violence.  Of course, our corporate media are in the service of the hegemon and their job is to act as echo chambers for whatever the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, M15 want to sell to the public.  They participated in the demonization of Saddam Hussein and in the hysteria that accompanied the run-up to the invasion, which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan labelled an “illegal war” on repeated occasions. Our media does not only disseminate “fake news” and bogus arguments, it also suppresses inconvenient facts, including the massive violations of the 2014 and 2015 Minsk Agreements by Ukraine, the savage shelling of Lugansk and Donetsk, the destruction of hospitals and schools. Anyone who wants to be informed about what is happening in Ukraine must also consult RT, Sputnik, CGTN, Asia Times, Telesur, Prensa Latina and “alternative media” like Greyzone, the Intercept, Consortium News and Counterpunch.

NATO countries unleashed wars and committed atrocities in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Syria. However, no one has been held responsible for this so far. Furthermore, in the eyes of the US the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. What’s your take on this situation?

I partly agree with the US that the ICC has little or no authority and credibility. I disagree with the US in that I would wish to see a vigorous, objective and proactive ICC that would exercise jurisdiction not only over African leaders and military, but that would demonstrate the courage and independence to indict individuals from Western countries.  Surely George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden all deserve being indicted – for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the “collateral damage” caused by the indiscriminate use of drones, for the use of prohibited weapons and depleted uranium weapons with long-lasting radioactive impacts.  Indeed, the ICC will only have credibility when it decides to prosecute the big fish.  Hitherto it seems that the ICC has largely served the interests of the Western countries, and continues to operate as a smoke screen for the crimes of the West, focusing only on crimes committed by the “little fish”.

Could one qualify NATO as a “criminal organization” for purposes of Article 9 of the Statute of Rome of 8 August 1945 – the statute of the Nuremberg Tribunal? Is there ample evidence and necessary preconditions for it? How could this be done?

I would like to see Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch come out and call a spade a spade.  I would like to see the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights engage in more than just “peace” rhetoric, but to formulate an implementable plan that guarantees a security architecture for all countries in Europe and the world. I would like to see the Secretary General vindicate the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of states and the right of self-determination of all peoples, including the peoples of Crimea and Donbas.

It is time to demand an end to impunity for the crime of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  It is time to demand that the International Court of Justice declare in an Advisory Opinion that the eastern expansion of NATO entailed a “threat to international peace and security” for purposes of article 39 of the UN Charter and constituted a violation of article 2(4) of the Charter, which prohibits not only the use of force but also the threat of the use of force.  How else can we describe the continuous expansion of NATO in violation of the assurances given to Gorbachev in 1989, 90 and 91?  How else can we describe the massive rearmament of Ukraine with only one purpose – to intimidate Russia?  NATO is certainly not a “defensive alliance” – at least not since the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991.  NATO has been trying to usurp the role of the UN Security Council, which has exclusive responsibility for keeping peace and security in the world.  Of course, since the Security Council will never agree to impose a “Pax Americana” on the rest of the world, NATO unilaterally assumes the role of imperial policeman over the globe and establishes hundreds of military bases intended to encircle not only Russia, but China as well.

It should be the role of the International Criminal Court to investigate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by NATO countries in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  These crimes are documented not only in the publications of Wikileaks, but also in United Nations reports and countless eyewitness and victim testimonies. An Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice could look into the question whether the number and magnitude of these crimes qualify NATO as a “criminal organization” for purposes of article 9 of the London Agreement of 8 August 1945.  Of course, there are serious problems with the concept of a “criminal organization”, because we all believe in individual justice and not in guilt by association.  It would be necessary to ensure the presumption of innocence of all members of a “criminal organization” and guarantee due process as provided for in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  But questions concerning the crimes committed by NATO and NATO countries must be raised.  Bearing in mind that NATO has such a long track record of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is important that history record this sad reality, and that civil society the world over reject the propaganda narratives and demand more transparency and accountability from the leaders of the US and all NATO countries. Here is a task for the International Criminal Court – to examine whether the violations of articles 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Statute of Rome by NATO countries justify calling NATO a “criminal organization.”  Bottom line:  International law is by definition universal, and it must be enforced not only against little countries, but against all members of the international community, objectively and without double-standards.

Alfred de Zayas is a law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on International Order 2012-18. He is the author of ten books including “Building a Just World Order” Clarity Press, 2021.