By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, July 1, 2024: When the twentieth century was coming to a close, the International Criminal Court established under the Rome Statute of 1998, issued an arrest warrant against Milosevic, the then President of Yugoslavia, at that time still a communist country of the erstwhile Soviet era of the Cold War period. Practically, the whole Western world rejoiced this action as democratic liberalism, it was felt then, had finally triumphed inspiring intellectuals and scholars to read the book, “End of the World and Last man” of Francis Fukuyama.

Many followers of the concept of state sovereignty in the post-World War II phase of developing countries, freed from the imperial control, subjugation, and colonialism, wondered how a president of a sovereign country could be arrested by an international court. This idea of international law expanding to include individuals was repugnant to many, whether politicians, lawyers, and jurists although the Nuremberg and the Tokyo trials at the end of the World War II had taken action to punish individuals with dissenting judgment of the famous Justice Pal, the Indian judge, who took the stand the victors have no legal or moral right to decide who transgressed the law. “In times of war, the law falls silent”. “Silent enim leges inter arma” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero.

War had been recognized as a means of settlement of disputes among nations until the Hague Convention on the laws of war in 1907 set out a well-established international norm that a State must notify its enemy of its intention to attack. A surprise attack without any prior warning is illegal. War per se was not illegal till then. Law of nations however like the Geneva Convention established rules of war and how to treat prisoners and also protect civilians. However, the Charter of the United Nations has set out under what circumstances armed forces can be used.

No head of the state and government had been tried or arrested till then.

Milosevic could be arrested only when the NATO intervention succeeded in changing the regime, also making Kosovo, peopled by the Islamic Albanians, an independent country. New leaders of the former Yugoslavia, now called Serbia, promised of a massive Western assistance, which of course never came, handed over Milosevic to the Court.

When the same International Court issued a warrant against Gaddafi of Libya, people wondered how he would be arrested until the factious civil war taking the country to anarchy ended. Warrant before it could be executed brought pathetic and brutal end to Gaddafi’s life by angry, suppressed, and tortured Libyans going berserk, of course with the active support from the French and British air force with blessings of US, all in the name of democracy and freedom. Only a few years before the fall of Gaddafi, Tony Blair, the then prime minister of UK had visited the country to free the regime from any nuclear ambition in exchange for expanded trade and commerce etc.

On the intervention of Nelson Mandela, Gaddafi of course had also agreed to surrender the two Libyan terrorists involved in the bombing of the Pan Am aircraft over Lockerbie. In fact, they were tried in Netherlands and convicted and imprisoned until released prematurely on the health grounds.

Now Libya, the land of the mighty Hannibal of erstwhile Carthage is in ruins, also considered as a failed State like Somalia with multiple warlords supported by different power centers of the world.

The Western world did not shed a tear.

After few years Bashir of Sudan also got an arrest warrant. He avoided leaving the country, possibly remembering the fate of the Chilean ex-President, Pinochet when he was arrested in UK under an arrest warrant from the Spanish Court. Interestingly, ex-prime minister of UK, Margaret Thacher came to his rescue as he was the erstwhile supporter of UK during the Falkland war.

The fate of arrest warrant against Bashar is now in limbo with ex-dictator having been deposed and detained by the military, and the chaotic civil war in Sudan is continuing. The whole Western society, including the media, supported this action.

The Western leaders in particular from US were gleeful when the warrant against Putin was issued after the Ukraine conflict.

Now the tide has taken a different turn. The International Court of Justice dealing with the South African initiative supported by others has started hearing on the grounds of war crimes and genocide against Israel. The Court has in fact directed Israel to stop any further invasion on Rafah. Accusations have been made that in the Gaza invasion nearly thirty-five thousand innocent Palestinians mostly children, women, sick, and old have been killed.

Now it seems history has taken a full circle with the same International Criminal Court who had acted against Milosevic, Gaddafi, Bashir, and Putin is contemplating to issue arrest warrant against Netanyahu and three Hamas leaders much to the chagrin of the traditional Israeli lobby of the United States whether they are Republicans or Democrats.

Is not what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander?

Readers must be reminded that advocates of rule-based world order like the US had abstained from signing the Rome Statute, 1998 which created the International Criminal Court. Around 139 States have signed the Rome Statute, while only 118 have ratified the document.

The readers need to know about the invasion of the coalition forces of US and UK on Iraq then under Saddam Hussein  terming Iraq as part of the so-called “Axis of Evil” on allegations that he possessed weapons of mass destruction although the inspectors of International Atomic Energy Agency found none before invasion and the US troops could not find any after their occupation. What happened to the region after Saddam is well-known with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) calling itself a caliphate occupying a part of Iraq and Syria committed barbarous atrocities on the Yazidi population.

Time has now come to ruminate on what is called Rule Based International Order.

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