Nearly a year ago, the United States and Britain began military operations in Afghanistan in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The campaign, however, has not only hit the intended targets — the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime harboring it — but has also greatly impacted the lives of Afghan civilians.
Civilians have been killed and wounded in so-called off-target strikes, with fatalities numbering more than 3,500 last year alone, according to Marc Herold, a professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire. Questions have also been raised about the U.S. treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners.
Amid the fighting, thousands of Afghans were forced to flee the country as the Northern Alliance with U.S. and Britain help ousted the Taliban regime, and many more are living harder lives.
With the approach of the first anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led campaign, criminal jurist Akira Maeda and a group of Japanese citizens are waging a campaign to hold the top commander of the war — U.S. President George W. Bush — accountable.
Maeda, 46, a professor at Tokyo Zokei University, proposed the idea of a civic tribunal in February because he believes the arguments made against the war by some constitutional experts and peace activists are odd.
He decided that unless war crimes and relevant legal concerns are properly addressed, the arguments will remain unconvincing.
“I thought if I was to protest the war, I needed to explore what had really happened and to hold the most responsible people accountable,” he said.
Maeda, better known as an expert on international law and war crimes than his primary field, criminal law, argues in his draft indictment for the tribunal that the U.S.-led military action violates international laws.
He raised five examples of suspected breaches of international law — aggression, persecution, attacks against civilians and nonmilitary facilities, torturing of and execution of prisoners.
Maeda dismissed the U.S. claim that its campaign was an act of self-defense, a right guaranteed under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.
The article requires member states to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and does not allow a pre-emptive strike or unlimited exercise of self-defense, he said.
A campaign designed to oust a government — be it a legitimate regime or not — violates the right to self-determination spelled out in the preamble to the U.N. Charter, Maeda said.
He also contended that the American use of cluster bombs and fuel-air bombs, as well as the reported killing, by the Northern Alliance, of hundreds of non-Afghan Taliban fighters last November during an armed prison uprising in northern Afghanistan, constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
He claimed the bombs are weapons of “indiscriminate attack” that could result in noncombatants being wounded, which is banned by the ICC statute.
“International law is not exclusively for states,” Maeda said. “When a state has violated international law, people should move to make the state comply with the law.”
The proposal for a tribunal to be held by citizens is not a new one. It was first suggested by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell during the Vietnam War. Russell, together with international celebrities, including Jean-Paul Sartre, examined evidence of American and South Vietnamese atrocities and convened a war crimes tribunal from late 1966 through 1967.
Since then, the list of citizen tribunals includes the Gulf War War Crimes Tribunal by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, held in 2000 in Tokyo by journalist Yayori Matsui and others.
The impact of such a tribunal is open to question, especially when it has no power to punish those responsible.
“Enforcement is not the essence of a trial,” said Maeda, who was also involved in the 2000 women’s tribunal. “What is important is to bring facts to light and make clear who is responsible, bringing to light cases that should have been addressed by law but remain untouched.”
International law has no legally binding power in the first place, he said. With some exceptions, enforcement depends on each country’s efforts.
Maeda and his colleagues have made three research trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan since March to examine the impact of the U.S. military action on Afghans.
They are now working out details of the tribunal, including the style of the hearings.
While organizers will accuse Bush alone because of their limited time and resources, they also believe Japan is responsible.
“Letting the Maritime Self-Defense Force provide fuel to U.S. and British warships has made (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi an accomplice, along with (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair,” Maeda said.
He and others in the group are considering specifying Japan’s actions in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in the form of advisory opinions.
Maeda is at present trying to improve the draft statute of the tribunal. “I can’t let it be much different from the statutes of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals and the International Criminal Court.”
The tribunal will open next spring with the support of the International Action Center, a group founded by Clark, and Global Exchange, a U.S. group encouraging encounters between Afghans and people victimized by the Sept. 11 attacks.