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Australian Leaders Risk War Criminal Status In Illegal Iraq War

This is a transcript of AM broadcast at 08:00 AEST on local radio.

Listen to it here-  http://www.abc.net.au/am/2003/02/13/20030213am03.asx
War crimes judge warns Australia


AM - Thursday, February 13, 2003 8:08

LINDA MOTTRAM: The first chief prosecutor on the tribunal on the war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia has warned that Australia will be breaking international law if it follows the United States into war against Iraq without UN approval.

Richard Goldstone is a judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court, and he chairs the International Bar Association's Taskforce on International Terrorism.

He says an attack without a UN mandate would undo half a century of international law and speaking at Melbourne University's School of Law last night, he detailed the implications as he sees them if that happens.

Ben Knight went along to the lecture.

BEN KNIGHT: Under international law, there are two possible reasons for a country going to war.

One is if it has the approval of the United Nations Security Council. The other is in self defence. And Justice Goldstone says the United States and its coalition of the willing may be about to break that law.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: There is absolutely no evidence that I have seen or heard indicating that the United States is under imminent threat of attack from Iraq and all the more so Australia.

So it would clearly fall to be held to be illegal under the Charter.

BEN KNIGHT: As the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, Justice Goldstone has seen international law broken before but he says a unilateral action in Iraq, without United Nations approval, would be the most significant breach of international law since World War II.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: It is highly unusual.

I don't know of any example of military action being used, save for humanitarian purposes in the case of Kosovo, without the Security Council and you know there it was very different because, again like Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosovic had a terrible record of ethnic cleansing and other serious violations of human rights in his area.

And the international community said even though the United States didn't get the Security Council resolution it was justified in joining with NATO in taking that action.

This would be a first time ever of military action being taken, absent of a Security Council resolution for, which is not in self defence and not for humanitarian purposes.

BEN KNIGHT: Speaking in Melbourne last night, Justice Goldstone warned Australia against acting without UN approval.

While he agrees the consequences for the United States, Britain and Australia would be slight, he is concerned at the precedent, that it would then allow other countries to do the same.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well other countries are going to say, if the United States can take unilateral action in the absence of a Security Council resolution, in the absence of imminent attack on it, we are going to do the same thing.

You will have the same thing happening possibly in South East Asia, India and Pakistan, you will have it in the Middle East, in Africa and this will really be, as I say, an important weakening of the sanction that international law tries to have.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Justice Richard Goldstone speaking to our reporter Ben Knight in Melbourne.

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2003 ABC