On March 17, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted and issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova. They are the first and only white people to be indicted by the court. All 44 of those previously indicted have been Africans.
Neither Russia, China, nor the US have accepted the court’s jurisdiction. The US Congress even passed what’s colloquially known as the Hague Invasion Act , which makes it lawful—not internationally, but lawful according to US statute—for the US to invade the Netherlands to save any US official, service member, or citizen, or those of any of its allies, should they ever be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, no matter how heinous or well-documented the crime.
The indictments of Putin and Lvova-Belova allege that they were responsible for the abduction and “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The indictments of Putin and Lvova-Belova allege that they were responsible for the abduction and “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia. Defenders of Putin and Lvova-Belova say that the children were just temporarily removed from a war zone where they might have been in danger.
Putin is scheduled to represent Russia at a conference of the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—in South Africa in August. However, the plan has become controversial there because South Africa is a state party to the ICC and might therefore be expected to arrest Putin. Thirty-three African nations are states parties to the court and thereby accept its jurisdiction.
I spoke to David Paul Jacobs, a Canadian attorney who has practiced in international law about the indictment.
ANN GARRISON: David, I think the ICC would be a laughingstock for its racist hypocrisy if there weren’t so many lives lost in the crimes that it considers and fails to consider, but this indictment has the world’s attention and it’s awkward for South Africa. Can you explain South Africa’s legal position as a state party that still accepts the jurisdiction of the court? What does the Rome Statute or any related documents say?
DAVID PAUL JACOBS: The Rome Statute gives the ICC the “authority to make requests to States Parties for cooperation.” South Africa is a state party to the Rome Statute, although in 2016, South Africa indicated its intention to withdraw from the Statute, and later reversed itself.
The obligation to cooperate with the ICC is tempered by Article 98 of the statute which provides that:
1. The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.
2. The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international agreements pursuant to which the consent of a sending State is required to surrender a person of that State to the Court, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of the sending State for the giving of consent for the surrender.”
In this case the “requested State” is South Africa and the “third State” would be Russia.
South Africa’s obligations include the requirements of the African Union’s 2015 resolution granting heads of state immunity from ICC prosecution and the provisions of its domestic law: the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001. Many countries have similar enactments to protect their heads of state and diplomatic personnel and reciprocally protect such persons from other states, for obvious and historic reasons. International law recognizes the jurisdictional immunity of a head of state.
The South African government has now granted immunities and privileges under the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001 for the BRICS meetings to be held in Cape Town in June and August, 2023.
AG: If South Africa were to arrest Putin, Russia would feel obliged to invade South Africa, wouldn’t it?
DPJ: Given the decision of the South African government to apply immunity to the BRICS meetings, the question, thankfully, does not arise.
It is worth noting that the USA, which is not a state party to the Rome Statute, has enacted the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, aka the Hague Invasion Act, prohibiting US cooperation with the Court, and permitting the President to authorize military force to free any US military personnel held by the court.
AG: Thirty-three African nations, including South Africa, are states parties to the court. Given that the Court has indicted 44 Africans and no one from another continent, do you think they should all withdraw from the court?
DPJ: The African Union has instructed member countries not to cooperate with the ICC.
AG: Regarding the indictment of Putin and Lvova-Belova itself, I know that Ukraine’s bombing of its own Russian-speaking population, its disregard for the Minsk Accords, and perhaps even its desire to join NATO make a moral case for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s still a crime of aggression, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, isn’t it?
DPJ: Article 51 of the U.N. Charter provides in part that:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
It has been argued that the right of self-defense includes a right of anticipatory self-defense necessary in the face of overwhelming threats. The decisions of Crimea, the Donbas, etc., to join Russia, and the armed attacks on their territories, ramping up in January 2022, in part provide the bases for such arguments on the part of Russia. Recall, however, that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia was deemed illegal by the late Antonio Cassese who was a President of the ICC.
The US claimed that its wars on Iraq and Afghanistan were all justified as aid in “self-defence” even though NATO countries were not attacked or threatened prior to the attacks.
AG: Why do you think the court indicted Putin for abducting children but not for invading Ukraine, which would seem to be its primary violation of international law?
DPJ: That’s not clear. I do not believe that the indictment is yet released, so we do not know the allegations in full. The ICC has complex provisions regarding the crime of aggression, only recently added to its jurisdiction. Regarding the charge, the Russians claim that children without parental or other support, orphans and such, were moved to safety but many have been returned.
AG: David Jacobs, thank you for speaking to Black Agenda Report.
David Barsamian: American Justice Robert Jackson was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He made an opening statement to the Tribunal on November 21, 1945, because there was some concern at the time that it would be an example of victor’s justice. He said this: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany…
Fossil fuel executives have funded a massive, 50-year-long campaign to lie to the American people, cloud the science, and buy off Republican politicians. Untold millions will die and suffer as a result, but will their ever be one iota of accountability?
If somebody had set your house on fire, killing your child and pets, and then your city demanded that you give that somebody hundreds of dollars a year for the next decade, how would you feel?
That’s pretty much the situation of families across America who’ve lost their homes, family members, and livelihoods to wildfires, floods, extreme heat and cold, mile-wide tornadoes, bomb cyclones, heat domes, hurricanes, and drought caused by today’s climate emergency, but nonetheless have to pay taxes that subsidize the fossil fuel industry executives who helped caused it all.
For over 50 years, the top executives of that industry have known their products would produce this exact result: a crisis that is killing an average of around 7,500 Americans a year (and over a million worldwide) and promises to kill hundreds of millions within a decade or two.
But instead of doing anything of consequence to mitigate the damage of their operations, they instead funded a massive, 50-year-long campaign to lie to the American people, cloud the science, and buy off Republican politicians.
President Biden, as part of his negotiations with Kevin McCarthy, has proposed reducing the budget deficit by $31 billion through cutting about five percent of the subsidies you and I give to the fossil fuel industry every year through our tax dollars. McCarthy, in the pocket of Big Oil, has said he won’t even consider the proposal.
Famed climate scientist James Hansen is working on a paper outlining the dimensions of the disaster facing humanity at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, and it’s shocking. My friend and colleague Thomas Neuburger did a deep dive into it this week in his excellent God’s Spies Substack newsletter that’s well worth the read.
In essence, Hansen is proposing that the world will soon see both a collapse of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe’s climate capable of growing crops and a worldwide 60-meter rise in sea levels. Possibly in our children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes. As Thomas dryly notes in God’s Spies: “For Americans, 60 meters is about 200 feet.”
Deaths worldwide both directly from such an outcome — and from the wars that will result in the destruction of entire civilizations — will be measured in billions; here in America it’ll certainly be in the millions, and probably the tens of millions. Not to mention it speeding up the ongoing species collapse often referred as the Sixth Mass Extinction.
This is what the fossil fuel industry has brought to us, and to this day is aggressively trying to continue to sell to us. Fully aware of what they are doing.
Last week, the World Meteorological Organization published an in-depth report with the top-line conclusion summarizing the damage these fossil fuel executives have already inflicted on our planet and our lives, all while funding climate denial and paying off politicians worldwide:
“Between 1970 and 2021, there were 11,778 reported disasters [worldwide] attributed to weather, climate, and water extremes. They caused 2,087,229 deaths and US$ 4.3 trillion in economic losses.”
The week before that, One Earthpublished a peer-reviewed analysis of the cost of all this damage, quantifying it by the 21 largest fossil fuel companies around the world. They concluded that those decision-making executives of the fossil fuel industry have inflicted over $5.4 trillion in identifiable economic damages on the rest of us which, instead of paying for, they have greedily converted to their own profit.
The report notes:
The “costs of anthropogenic climate change are chiefly borne by states that compensate their own citizens harmed by climate impacts or contribute to international adaptation finance, by insurance companies with regard to their insureds, and by uncompensated victims of climate change.”
In other words, the fossil fuel companies produced the global warming and cancer-causing emissions, but when people are damaged by them or the weather they are changing, government and insurance companies pay the cost.
The fossil fuel companies and their executives pay nothing, and never have. If they can keep the GOP in their pocket, they hope they never will.
Therefore, Earth One is calling for specific reparations, paid for by those companies:
“We argue that other agents bear substantial responsibility for the cost of redressing climate harm: the companies that engage in the exploration, production, refining, and distribution of oil, gas, and coal. “The recent progress in climate attribution science makes it evident that these companies have played a major role in the accumulation and escalation of such costs by providing gigatonnes of carbon fuels to the global economy while willfully ignoring foreseeable climate harm. “All the while they successfully shaped the public narrative on climate change through disinformation, misleading ‘advertorials,’ lobbying, and political donations to delay action directly or through trade associations and other surrogates.” (emphasis mine)
So, what can we do?
I see two possibilities, the first involving the law, and the second using the marketplace and, if that doesn’t work fast enough, the Fifth Amendment’s eminent domain provision.
First, the law:
Article 16 of the 1992 Rio Declaration explicitly calls for fossil fuel producers to pay for the damage their products and extraction processes produce. Thus, Earth One argues, Saudi Aramco (as the largest example) has cost the world so much that they should pay $43 billion a year in reparations for the next 25 years. While that seems like a lot of money, Saudi Aramco’s revenue in 2022 was $604 billion, spinning off $161 billion in pure profit.
Most of it’s executives and stockholders are already morbidly rich; this will put nobody in the poorhouse.
But isn’t the impact of this industry on our planet so consequential that — instead of just reducing their most senior executives’ income/revenue from billions to hundreds of millions — we should actually be holding the decision makers to account?
The legislature of New York State is considering a superfund bill that would move financially in this direction against domestic fossil fuel producers; other states will probably soon follow, although none are yet law.
None, though, yet target decision making senior executives as was done after World War II with the senior executives of the manufacturer of Zyklon B and the bosses and owners of the companies that ran medical experiments in concentration camps.
The discussion isn’t limited to the United States. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported this week:
“As fires blaze in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C., new research has drawn a direct and measurable link between carbon emissions traced back to the world’s major fossil fuel producers and the increase in extreme wildfires across western Canada and the United States.”
“[F]ound that 37 per cent of the total burned forest area in Western Canada and the United States between 1986-2021 can be traced back to 88 major fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers.”
But these companies have not stopped buying off politicians, making it clear that extracting money from the ones causing all this damage and death worldwide may not be enough to provoke real change from the billionaire and multi-millionaire investors and executives making the decisions. Instead, we must motivate those executives themselves.
Another remedy, therefore, comes from the Nuremberg principles that were created in 1950 by the United Nations after World War II. While their original goal was to prosecute Nazis and deter future genocidal actions by dictatorial regimes, they could arguably apply to today’s intentional mass murder at the hands of the world’s fossil fuel executives.
More specifically, the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague was created by the Rome Statute on July 17, 1998. It goes beyond the “war crimes” and “crimes of aggression” defined by the Nuremberg principles and specifies both those two along with “the crime of genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”
That last category is clarified as including:
“[I]nhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
The United States has never signed onto the ICC, but actions against fossil fuel executives based in the US can be brought by other signatory nations. If the effort were started outside the United States, for example, Royal Dutch Shell is based in the Netherlands, a full signatory to the Rome Statute.
As of three years ago, two US states had launched fraud investigations into ExxonMobil, although the one lawsuit by New York failed to bring a conviction (it was based on a charge that they had committed fraud against their investors).
Multiple US cities have sued fossil fuel companies for climate change damages, although there has not yet been a “breakthrough” case that could establish a precedent for others. But as damages continue to pile up and our weather becomes increasingly violent, expect more to come.
Fossil fuel companies have been following a business model since their early years in the 19th century of internalizing profits while externalizing (dumping on the public) their costs and damages.
Which brings us to a second possible solution to this crisis: nationalize the companies themselves, so their profits can be used to remedy their harms.
If ever there was an industry that merited nationalization, the fossil fuel industry is it. They manipulate prices to both enhance profits and swing elections, bribe their way through the halls of Congress, and pump out a steady stream of lies about climate change. All while pouring hundreds of billions into the money bins of their morbidly rich CEOs, shareholders, and senior executives.
America has a long and proud history of taking on companies that put profits over the public good during a time of crisis. And we could acquire controlling interest of the nation’s three largest fossil fuel players — ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips — for, according to Robert Pollin writing at The American Prospect, fewer than a half-trillion dollars.
For less than a quarter of the cost of Trump’s billionaire tax cuts we could rapidly move a long way toward saving our nation and the world from climate destruction.
All the American government would have to do is to go into the public marketplace and start purchasing the stock of each of these companies at a premium to buy majority shares in each of them. Again, the cost would be less than 1/4th of Donald Trump‘s tax cut. It could probably be done in a matter of months, possibly even weeks.
But is it even possible? Turns out that history says an emphatic, “Yes!”
During the crisis of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson nationalized the country’s railroads, phone companies, and telegraph operators. He did the same with the nation’s radio networks and radio stations. All were returned to private ownership after the war, but that temporary nationalization helped get America through the crisis.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did the same during World War II, nationalizing airplane manufacturers, gun manufacturers, over 3,300 mines, the nation’s railroads, dozens of oil companies, Western Electric Co., Hughes Tool Co., Goodyear Tire and Rubber, and even one of the nation’s largest retail outlets, Montgomery Ward. He also nationalized 17 foreign companies doing business in the US.
After FDR died, President Harry Truman continued seizing companies that were using the war as an excuse to jack up profits to the detriment of the nation. He nationalized meatpacking facilities across the country, the Monongahela Railroad Company, the nation’s steel mills, and hundreds of railroad companies.
Like with Wilson’s nationalizations, nearly all were returned to the private sector after the war was over, although it took until 1965 before all were privatized. Many had had their boards of directors and senior management replaced with people who’d put the interests of the nation ahead of their greed for profits.
In the 1970s, in the wake of the collapse of the Penn Central Railroad, President Richard Nixon oversaw the nationalization and transfer of 20 railroads into the newly created National Rail Passenger Corporation, now known as Amtrak.
In 1974 Congress created another nationalized entity to deal with freight rail, the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), which absorbed dozens of failing rail companies. Conrail was government held until 1987, when it was privatized in the then-largest IPO in American history.
In 1984, when the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company was in a crisis, President Ronald Reagan’s administration oversaw the FDIC, nationalizing it by acquiring an 80 percent ownership share in the company; it wasn’t re-privatized until 1991, and was bought by Bank of America in 1994.
Also in the 1980s, after Reagan recklessly deregulated the Savings & Loan industry, banksters made off with billions leaving the wreckage of crushed S&Ls all across the nation.
When the government agency that insured them, FSLIC, went bankrupt itself in 1987, Reagan and Congress created an umbrella agency — the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) — to nationalize 747 of America’s S&Ls with assets of over $400 billion. Their assets were sold back into the private market in 1995 as the RTC shut itself down, having averted a 1929-style banking crisis through temporary nationalization.
When George W. Bush was handed the White House by 5 Republican appointees on the Supreme Court, the nation’s airline security system was entirely in private hands.
They failed miserably on 9/11, so Bush didn’t even bother with the normal acquisition process that would protect the hundreds of small contractors running security at airports across the nation: he simply nationalized the entire system and created a government agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to take over airport and airline security.
President Bush also partially nationalized the nation’s airlines, creating the Air Transportation Stabilization Board that traded around $10 billion in loans to airlines in crisis (air traffic collapsed after 9/11) in exchange for company stock. We (through our government) ended up holding 7.64 million shares in US Airways, 18.7 million shares of America West Airlines, 3.45 million shares in Frontier Airlines, 1.47 million shares in American TransAir, and 2.38 million shares in World Airways.
Congress had deregulated the nation’s banks in 1999 when Republicans pushed through an end to the Glass-Steagall Act and Bill Clinton signed it into law. The resulting banking system crash in 2008 forced the Bush administration to nationalize the country’s two largest mortgage lenders (they held about 40% of all US mortgages), Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
The Bush administration then additionally nationalized a 77.9% share in AIG, a 36% share of Citigroup, and a 73.5% share of GMAC, forcing out GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner, who’d been a particularly terrible manager of that company and was actively lobbying against what Bush thought were America’s interests.
As President Barack Obama came into office in 2009, GM and Chrysler were on the brink of collapse. His administration created a new company, NGMCO, Inc., that nationalized the assets of GM and was 60.8% owned by the federal government.
GM was finally fully re-privatized by the Obama administration in 2013. Chrysler went through a similar process, although both the UAW and the Canadian government were part owners when it was temporarily nationalized.
Toward its end, he summarizes brilliantly the case for nationalizing — perhaps only temporarily — America’s largest oil and gas companies:
“In such times of political and economic crisis, policymakers of all ideological persuasions in the United States have never been hesitant to use one of the most powerful tools at their disposal: nationalization of private enterprises and assets. “This included the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who nationalized railroads, and the telephone, telegraph, and radio industries (among others), and the Republican Ronald Reagan, who nationalized a major national bank; the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who nationalized dozens of mining and manufacturing facilities, and the Republican George W. Bush, who nationalized airport security and various major financial institutions; the Democrat Barack Obama, who nationalized auto manufacturers, and the Republican Richard Nixon, who nationalized all passenger rail service.”
Today’s climate crisis dwarfs the threat of Nazism in the 1940s, Bin Laden’s 9/11 attack, or the massive bank robberies that took place during the Reagan and Bush administrations.
It literally threatens all life on Earth.
Yet the fossil fuel industry continues to fund climate denial and lobby against any meaningful solutions, as we saw when every Republican in the Senate along with coal baron Joe Manchin killed the $500 billion investment in clean energy the Biden administration proposed in their 2021 Build Back Better legislation.
Squeals of “socialism!” and “Venezuela!” aside, we know how to nationalize industries that are working against our nation’s interests and have done it before, repeatedly.
And this time it’s not just about saving our banks or fighting a war. This time, it’s literally about saving the world.
The post-9/11 War on Terror may have caused at least 4.5 million deaths in around half a dozen countries, according to a report published Monday by the preeminent academic institution studying the costs, casualties, and consequences of a war in which U.S. bombs and bullets are still killing and wounding people in multiple nations.
The new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs shows “how death outlives war” by examining people killed indirectly by the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
“In a place like Afghanistan, the pressing question is whether any death can today be considered unrelated to war,” Stephanie Savell, Costs of War co-director and author of the report, said in a statement. “Wars often kill far more people indirectly than in direct combat, particularly young children.”
u201cBREAKING: Our latest estimates reveal that deaths in post-9/11 war zones top 4.5 million.u00a0nnRead more by @MiriamABerger in the @WashingtonPost: https://t.co/nefwgALoP6u201d
— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
The publication “reviews the latest research to examine the causal pathways that have led to an estimated 3.6-3.7 million indirect deaths in post-9/11 war zones,” while “the total death toll in these war zones could be at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting, though the precise mortality figure remains unknown.”
As The Washington Post—which first reported on the analysis—details:
Since 2010, a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians participating in theCosts of War project have kept their own calculations. According to their latest assessment, more than 906,000 people, including 387,000 civilians, died directly from post-9/11 wars. Another 38 million people have been displaced or made refugees. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has spent over $8 trillion on these wars, the research suggests.
But Savell said the research indicates that exponentially more people, especially children and the most impoverished and marginalized populations, have been killed by the effects of war—mounting poverty, food insecurity, environmental contamination, the ongoing trauma of violence, and the destruction of health and public infrastructure, along with private property and means of livelihood.
According to the report, “The large majority of indirect war deaths occur due to malnutrition, pregnancy and birth-related problems, and many illnesses including infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases like cancer.”
u201cThe @WashingtonPost covered it in todayu2019s exclusive. Fantastic coverage by @MiriamABerger [2/nhttps://t.co/Rck6BCpVwiu201d
One 2012 study found that more than half of the babies born in the Iraqi city of Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among the pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45% experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the 2004 U.S. assaults on Fallujah. Geiger counter readings of depleted uranium-contaminated sites in densely populated Iraqi urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
The study also found that some deaths “also result from injuries due to war’s destruction of infrastructure such as traffic signals and from reverberating trauma and interpersonal violence.”
u201cFactoring in Costs of War estimates of direct deaths of between 906,000 u2013 937,000 people in these war zones brings the total of estimated deaths to at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting. [5/11] https://t.co/3m3JrCzqkRu201d
— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
Savell said that “warring parties who damage infrastructure with an impact on population health have a moral responsibility to provide quick and effective assistance and repairs.”
“The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones,” she added. “The U.S. government could do far more than it currently is to act on this responsibility.”
Minneapolis, MN — United Nations human rights investigators visited six U.S. cities that have been in the spotlight in recent years for police-involved killings of African Americans. The Minnesota visit comes after Twin Cities based activists organized petitions and letters to get the human rights panel to include Minneapolis in its tour.
On May 2, the Urban League in North Minneapolis hosted two United Nations’ (UN) panelists and a room full of members of the Twin Cities Black American and African communities, along with the press, for a community listening session. At least 80 people were in attendance.
Around 80 people attend UN visit at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023. Photo contributed by Chris Juhn.
The UN panel is investigating the root causes behind law enforcement murders of Black people in America and how the “legacies of colonialism and the Transatlantic slave trade” still impact American society today. The panel is also looking into government responses to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in recent years and possible violations to international human rights laws.
Tracie Keesee and Juan Méndez, from the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (EMLER), a special panel appointed by the UN human rights council after the murder of George Floyd, came to listen to Black community members speak about their experiences with state violence, including police killings – experiences widely considered to be human rights violations. The same day, the fourth killer of George Floyd, Tou Thao, was found guilty of aiding in his murder.
Tracie Keesee and Juan Méndez, from the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (EMLER), listen to testimonies during a meeting at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023. Photo contributed by Chris Juhn.
Deborah Watts, a cousin of Emmett Till, also testified at the Minneapolis listening session. Till was the 14 year-old Black boy whose 1955 murder in Mississippi by two white men became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Watts described white supremacy as being embedded in America’s DNA.
In a defiant tone, she said her cousin Emmett, “At age 14, was so brutalized, no one could recognize him. … Thank you, America.”
Deborah Watts, the cousin of Emmett Till who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi, speaks during a meeting with the UN at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023. Photo contributed by Chris Juhn.
Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, gave a fiery testimony. Philando Castille was killed in 2016 by officer Jeronimo Yanez in front of his girlfriend and her child during a routine traffic stop. Castile’s mother told the UN that her son was frequently the target of racialized policing, and that “He had been pulled over 50-plus documented times, prior.”
Although charged with manslaughter, Yanez was found not guilty in a jury trial the next year. Castile said President Obama’s Department of Justice investigated her son’s murder but quietly shut it down without explanation. “We deserve to have a complete, honest, accurate, open results from that investigation. I feel like … my human rights and constitutional rights are being violated.”
Castile spoke on the deep trauma that her and other mothers have experienced. She called on listeners to show up for the victims of extrajudicial police killings. “For the Black mothers like myself, whose children do not return home, you can never understand the depths of our pain.”
Myon Burrell, who was incarcerated at the age of 16 by now-U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, freed in 2020 after spending 18 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, spoke on the horrors of youth incarceration. He said prisons were created to “break human beings.”
Myon Burrell who was incarcerated for 18 years for a murder is didn’t commit, speaks during a meeting with the UN at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023. Photo contributed by Chris Juhn.
Another speaker, Lucina Kayee compared her experiences in solitary confinement at a refugee camp to her time at Catholic Charities’ notorious St. Joseph’s Home for Children in South Minneapolis that serves kids who have survived abuse and abandonment. Kayee described escaping civil war in Liberia and surviving refugee camps only to have a staff at St. Joseph’s put her in a chokehold at the age of 13.
Marvina Haynes’ testimony about her brother, who she said has been wrongfully incarcerated for more than half his life, brought many in the room to tears, including her fellow panelists. Her brother Marvin Haynes was convicted for the 2004 killing of Randy Sherer when he was 16 years old and sentenced to life in prison, a sentence which he is serving at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. Haynes, also prosecuted by Klobuchar, has maintained his innocence from the moment he was accused by Minneapolis Police investigators.
“MPD stole my brother from my family. They wouldn’t let my mom have any rights to him. We thought the system would eventually do the right thing,” she said about her family holding onto hope, as she fought back tears. “But they have not done that yet.”
Marvina Haynes, sister of Marvin Haynes who’s been incarcerated since 2004 for a murder he is innocent of, speaks during a meeting with the UN at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023. Photo contributed by Chris Juhn.
Burrell, Kayee, Haynes and several others who testified called on the UN to condemn juvenile solitary confinement in American jails and prisons and to ban the practice internationally.
The UN panel heard testimony in five other cities including in Chicago, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York City.
Mendez told the Minneapolis audience that the testimony collected will be included in their upcoming Geneva report which will be widely distributed.
Minneapolis wasn’t originally included in the panel’s 2023 schedule, former Minneapolis NAACP President Angela Rose Myers told Unicorn Riot. However, she and her research colleagues from the University of Minnesota created a petition and gathered over 2,000 signatures calling for EMLER to investigate law enforcement practices in Minnesota. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Minneapolis City Councilor Robin Wonsley, and more than 30 community-based organizations wrote letters also calling on EMLER to add Minneapolis to its tour, which it did.
Toshira Garraway, founder of the advocacy group Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, one of the organizers of the forum, also testified for the UN panel. Garraway is the fiancé of Justin Tiegen who was found dead in a recycling center after being pulled over by the St. Paul Police in 2009. Garraway says that interaction led to Tiegen’s death. She spoke about a coverup to hide what happened to her fiance and how so many other cases that aren’t considered “high profile” get “swept under the rug.”
She said, “Here in the state of Minnesota there has been over 500 bodies that have been lynched by law enforcement since the year 2000.” Adding, “And when we try to speak out, our families are harassed. I get death threats all the time. Our families are followed. And all kinds of stuff happens.”
While Garraway spoke, Deborah Watts, the cousin of Emmett Till, held up a list (pdf) of the more than 500 names of people in the State of Minnesota who’ve lost their lives from police interactions since 2000.
Watts said, “I’m born in America…a country that I believe has committed some crimes on humanity, but has not been held accountable.”
Garraway told Unicorn Riot that she wants the UN to put pressure on the United States through diplomatic means and through official channels to hold police accountable for extrajudicial killings of Black people.
Toshira Garraway speaks about her fiancé Justin Teigen being found dead after a police encounter in 2009, as she stands next to Justin’s sister Noelle during a march for march for Teigen and all stolen lives on August 21, 2021. Photo by Niko Georgiades for Unicorn Riot.
The UN concluded its tour on Friday in Washington D.C. and held a press conference and put out a press release with their preliminary findings. Méndez said that “Existing local and national standards on the ‘use of force’ by law enforcement officials do not meet international standards.”
The delegation said they felt an urgent, “moral responsibility, to echo the harrowing pain of victims and their families, and the resounding calls for accountability” that they heard in each city. Adding, “We support those calls for accountability.”
Keesee said that calls for change are not enough, that a “whole government approach” is needed to make a difference. “This needs to be more than a slogan and calls for reform.”
“Slavery has left a deep and long-lasting entrenched legacy on the country, which can be perceived through generational trauma. Racial discrimination permeates all contacts with law enforcement, from the first contact – at times already in school – by means of racial profiling, arrest, detention, sentencing and disenfranchisement in some States. In each of those aspects, available data points to a clear disproportional impact upon people of African descent.
Addressing and unpacking the impact of the circle of poverty on people of African descent, including operating an urgent shift from a criminal justice response to a human rights-centred response to poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness, is seen by the Mechanism as an imperative priority.
There should be a State-wide response, to lead to federal standards of policing, and engage whole of government reforms, which redefine the mission and scope of the police.”
But many are expecting things to continue with no impediment, citing the UN’s lack of authority to take any real action.
The UN was initiated by the United States under President Woodrow Wilson following World War I and originally known as The League of Nations. Today the UN is largely funded by Washington, with its headquarters in New York City.
In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress, led by Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson, petitioned the UN to take similar actions to curb white supremacist violence against Black Americans. The petition, We Charge Genocide, claimed that the killings of Black people at the hands of American law enforcement had become official policy during the Jim Crow era. “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet. To many [Americans] the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy.”
However, more than seven decades after this petition was first presented to the UN, the policy remains unchanged and no significant actions have been taken against the United States for its treatment of Black Americans. Yet, impacted families are still speaking out.
At the Minneapolis Urban League an unapologetic Valerie Castile declared, “This country prides itself on democracy, but it looks more like hypocrisy. … There has always been a silent war on Black people.” Adding, “But it aint silent no more.”
Karen Wells, the mother of Amir Locke who was killed by Minneapolis Police in 2022 speaks during a meeting with the UN at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023.
Amity Dimock, mother of Kobe Heisler-Dimock who was killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019, speaks during a meeting with the UN at the Minneapolis Urban League on May 2, 2023.
Benjamin Ferencz died last week at the age of 103. Ferencz was the last surviving member of the team of prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, which led to the convictions of many top Nazi officials and since been understood as the exemplar of justice for war crimes.
Ferencz served in the U.S. Army during the war and in its aftermath investigated the conditions at the Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau concentration camps. He spent the rest of his life advocating for the creation of an international criminal court and accountability for war criminals generally.
These facts appear in his obituaries. What’s missing from all of them in major outlets — including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, and the Associated Press — is Ferencz’s belief that top members of the George W. Bush administration, including Bush himself, should have been tried for war crimes for the Iraq War.
This is not obscure, difficult-to-obtain information. In 2002, the Times published a letter to the editor from Ferencz stating that “a preemptive military strike [on Iraq] not authorized by the Security Council would clearly violate the UN Charter that legally binds all nations.” In December 2003, Ferencz said in an interview, “The invasion by the U.S. of Iraq, I think, would also qualify under the Nuremberg principles as a violation of international law. … If you’re going to have that kind of a factual situation as we have in Iraq, I think the first trial should be a trial which is absolutely fair and should include all the principle perpetrators and planners of the crimes which occurred.” Ferencz wrote the foreword to a 2009 book titled “George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes.” He also wrote the foreword for another book, “Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.”
Yet the Times published an almost-2,000 word obituary for Ferencz without mentioning this. It somehow includes the sentence, “Critics say the [International Criminal Court] has focused on prosecutions in Africa while American wars have not even been investigated,” without mentioning that one of the most vociferous critics of this was Ferencz.
The Post’s obituary for Ferencz is 1,500 words long and mentions that after Nuremberg, he “devoted much of the rest of his life to the cause of international justice.” It also quotes Ferencz at Nuremberg as saying, “Death was their tool and life their toy. If these men be immune, then law has lost its meaning, and man must live in fear.” But there’s nothing about Iraq.
The BBC informs us that “[i]n his later years, he became a professor of international law and campaigned for an international court that could prosecute the leaders of governments found to have committed war crimes, writing several books on the subject.” There’s no mention of Iraq and Bush.
Ferencz’s Iraq perspective also goes unmentioned in Reuters. The Guardian found space to tell us, “Guided by his motto, ‘Law, Not War,’ Ferencz was still giving television interviews last year – arguing that those responsible for atrocities in Ukraine must be brought to trial.” His words about Iraq do not appear anywhere.
Yahoo News does manage to say that Ferencz’s principles led him to “strongly criticize the George W. Bush administration for its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for what he described as a refusal to abide by international norms.” However, there’s no information indicating that Ferencz thought Bush & Co. should be tried.
The media’s erasure of Ferencz’s views is especially distressing given his lifelong emphasis on the importance of remembering the past. In a speech just as the Iraq War commenced, Ferencz reminded the audience that the United Nations charter is “international law binding on all nations. We owe it to the memory of the dead to honor these commitments to peace.”
One thing worth remembering in this context are the famous opening remarks at Nuremberg by Robert Jackson, the chief justice:
If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. And we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.
Sadly, by the end of Ferencz’s life, he understood why Jackson’s confidence was misplaced and might not be surprised by the glaring omissions in his obituaries. “No country that prefers to use its power rather than the rule of law will vote for the rule of law, it’s logical,” he said in a recent documentary. “There are some people who do not trust the rule of law, and they prefer to use military power to achieve their goals as they decide, when they decide. That’s led by the United States. … War will make mass murderers out of otherwise decent people. … It’s inevitable, whether they are Americans, or they’re Germans, or anybody else.”
In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire last month, 1,300 U.S., NATO, and African troops met for tactical training and mock raids as part of Flintlock 2023, an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, or SOCAFRICA. Among the countries participating was Burkina Faso, which has been restricted from receiving substantial U.S. security aid since an officer trained by Americans at previous Flintlock exercises overthrew his democratically elected government in a coup last year.
The four-star general in charge of U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, meanwhile, told the House Armed Services Committee that only a small percentage of U.S.-trained officers overthrow their governments — while admitting he didn’t know the exact number. This prompted far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to ask, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be paying to train people who then lead coups in Africa?”
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Milton “Jamie” Sands, a SOCAFRICA commander, visits a training site for Flintlock’s Distinguished Visitors Day near Volta, Ghana, on March 14, 2023.
Photo: Spc. Mario Hernandez Lopez/U.S. Army
Flintlock attendees have conducted at least five coups in the last eight years. Since 2008, in fact, U.S.-trained officers have attempted at least nine coups (and succeeded in at least eight) across five West African countries, including Burkina Faso (three times), Guinea, Mali (three times), Mauritania, and the Gambia.
Flintlock attendees have conducted at least five coups in the last eight years.
Before he toppled Burkina Faso’s democratically elected president in 2022, for example, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba attended Flintlock exercises in 2010 and 2020, according to AFRICOM. A fellow Flintlock 2010 attendee, Gen. Gilbert Diendéré, overthrew the government of Burkina Faso in 2015.
Just a year after he attended Flintlock 2019, Col. Assimi Goïta headed the junta that overthrew Mali’s government. After staging that coup, Goïta stepped down and took the job of vice president in a transitional government tasked with returning Mali to civilian rule. But nine months later, he seized power for a second time.
Another alum of Flintlock 2019, Col. Mamady Doumbouya, served as a Guinean unit commander during the exercise, according to AFRICOM. In 2021, members of Doumbouya’s unit took time out from being trained in small unit tactics and the law of armed conflict by Green Berets to storm the presidential palace and depose their country’s 83-year-old president, Alpha Condé. Doumbouya soon declared himself Guinea’s new leader. The U.S. ended the training and distanced itself from the coup.
“Core values is what we start off with,” Gen. Michael Langley, the AFRICOM chief, told the House Armed Services Committee last month.
“Do we share those values with Col. Doumbouya?” asked Gaetz.
“Absolutely, in our curriculum,” Langley answered, causing Gaetz to do a double take. The Florida Republican and the AFRICOM four-star continued to spar:
Gaetz: We do? He led a coup. OK, well, that’s a very telling answer. In Burkina Faso, did we share core values with the leader that we trained there who led a coup?
Langley: It’s in our curriculum.
Gaetz: Leading coups is in our curriculum?
Langley: We stress core values. We stress civilian-led governance.
Gaetz: Wait, hold on, is leading coups in our curriculum?
Langley: Absolutely not. Civilian led—
Gaetz: My question is, do we share core values with the coup leader in Burkina Faso who we trained?
Langley: Holistically, we teach whole core values with respect for civilian governance. … We’ll continue with our persistence in assuring that they harbor democratic norms, democratic values, and [are] apolitical.
When asked about concrete steps taken to ensure that Flintlock 2023 attendees don’t overthrow their governments, SOCAFRICA’s Sands said, “While we always focus on the rule of law, we’ve really developed a much more thorough plan and integration for effects on that.”
Maj. Anya Nikogosian, the lead legal planner for Flintlock 2023, explained in a statement that her team “added significant rule of law facets” to the exercise, which emphasized that operations should be conducted “within the frameworks of … domestic laws, enabling civilian prosecution of terrorists, and enhancing the trust of the African people in their governments.” Details provided by SOCAFRICA suggest that Flintlock 2023 did provide training to facilitate better coordination between militaries and civilian law enforcement in counterterrorism investigations this year but offered no measures specifically aimed at preventing coups.
“If the U.S. says it is concerned about the consequences of coups, then U.S. military officials should speak plainly to their partners about the importance of civilian rule of the military and the legal implications coups have on U.S. assistance,” Sarah Harrison, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group and formerly associate general counsel at the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel, International Affairs, told The Intercept. “AFRICOM’s efforts do not seem to address this head on.”
Erica De Bruin, author of “How to Prevent Coups d’Etat: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival,” said that while Nikogosian and Sands seemed to argue that additional training was the answer, the reality is generally more complex. Often, she said, militaries are faced with situations in which human rights and civilian control are in opposition, such as presidential orders to centralize executive power or otherwise harm civilians. “In the face of such tension,” De Bruin told The Intercept in an email, “military officers often default to self-preservation — staging coups to preserve the cohesion, reputation, or material interests of the military as an institution.”
Langley insisted that a “very small number” of U.S. trainees overthrow their governments, but Gaetz, citing The Intercept’s coverage of coups by U.S.-trained West African officers, pointed out that AFRICOM actually has no idea how many coups its charges have conducted, nor does it keep a list of how many times such takeovers have happened. “AFRICOM does not maintain a database with this information,” AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan told The Intercept.
When Captain Ibrahim Traoré deposed Damiba in Burkina Faso last September, The Intercept asked Cahalan if Traoré had also received U.S. training. “We are looking into this,” she said, noting the command needed to “research” it. “I will let you know when I have an answer.” Six months later, AFRICOM has yet to offer one.
Gaetz told Langley that he, too, wants answers. “I think we should at least know how many countries we train the coup plotters in, how many is too many, because … we could use our resources far more effectively than doing this,” he said.
De Bruin, who also directs the Justice and Security Program at Hamilton College in New York, says there’s a very simple step the United States could take in terms of putsch prevention. The “best tool the U.S. has to prevent coups is responding swiftly and consistently to condemn coup attempts that do occur, and [to] sanction coup-installed governments,” she told The Intercept. “The fact is that the U.S. continues to respond inconsistently to coups, often looking the other way when it suits foreign policy goals.” This contradiction, De Bruin said, “encourages militaries to keep staging them.”