- March 23, 2023
- 16:00 - 18:00
- Free of charge
The military invasion of Iraq, which was a clear violation of international law, was launched under the premise that it was an act enforcing international law, i.e. UN Resolution 1441 (2002). It was claimed that pre-emptive strikes were necessary, since Saddam Hussein possessed both weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – a claim later proved false – and technology so powerful that an attack to the US could be imminent. Further, many argued that the armed intervention would bring an end to Saddam Hussein’s vicious treatment of the Iraqi population – thus implying that the intervention was also aimed at protecting human rights.
Law was invoked in conjunction with the use of military force in Iraq in ways that appeared to be clear forms of denial of the crime of aggression that the US- and UK-led coalition was in fact perpetrating. This use of law reveals the intricate connection between law and violence. If the traditional view is that the laws of war have progressively curtailed the use of military might, that is clearly not the case regarding the Iraq war as law was used not to restrain war and military violence but to support and strengthen these endeavours.
Even during the war, law was used to legitimise the use of military violence. This was the case with drones, where military lawyers determined whether a target was feasible or not, ultimately legalizing killings. The war had dramatic consequences for the people of Iraq; many were killed, and the country was largely destroyed. Many people were imprisoned and, while in detention, experienced torture at the hands of the occupying powers. When attempts were made to bring to justice the perpetrators of those acts of torture or even when a debate sparked about the use of the international crime of aggression for the war, the operation law was hindered through various mechanisms. Legal proceedings were often closed before a verdict could be reached, often on procedural grounds.
Furthermore, no proper attempt was ever made to bring a charge for the crime of aggression given that this crime was not yet fully enforceable by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In an attempt to oppose these practices, global civil society set up the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), a people’s court consisting of intellectuals, human rights campaigners and non-governmental organizations aimed at using the law to condemn the egregious crime of aggression and all the criminal events, including massive drone strikes and acts of torture, that ensued. The Iraq War is a manifesto concerning the complicated relationship between the law and war.
This seminar aims to commemorate the Iraq war 20 years since its inception by exploring how law was used and misused, as well as hindered and broken in this context, and revealing how law is not static. It can adapt, change and morph according to the purposes and functions it is required to serve.
Law is increasingly a contested terrain, to the point that some speak of “lawfare” when the law is deployed to de-legitimize certain claims. In some contexts, politicians and lawyers involved the ‘killing chain’ can make the law through their interpretation of legal rules. But when common people raise legal issues, manifesting the need to produce a different form of law, these issues are often de-legitimised and neglected.
The intricate way in which law is used and misused to make sense of war is what we aim to discuss during this event: How some actors seek to position themselves in relation to the law as legal subjects while others are not seen as ‘proper’ legal subjects at all. Iraq is an excellent case study on which to base this exploration/discussion.