G8 leaders are hardly in a position to denounce violence

In much of the press coverage of Indonesian president Wahid being replaced by vice-president Megawati (daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who was ousted in a US-backed coup), there are references to the Indonesian government having violated human rights in the resource-rich Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya, where strong separatist movements seek to split the provinces from the former Dutch colony. Some press reports warn of the prospect of the army giving Megawati  “a free hand to crush the separatist movements.”

Conspicuously absent are the sanctimonious cries of outrage about human rights violations that were heard over Kosovo. Milosevic, too, had launched a campaign to crush separatists, separatists it turned out, who were financed, trained and supported by a U.S. government, intent on ousting the Yugoslav president. Washington, which has never had a distaste for the use of violence to achieve political ends, whether by its own bloated armed forces, or through generously equipped and supported proxy armies, was prepared to encourage an armed rebellion by the KLA, and did. Milosevic has been portrayed as a monster for his part in ordering a crackdown on the separatists, but much of the evidence against him falls apart on inspection. Not so the violations of the Indonesian government, or otherwise of countries and movements under the umbrella of the Anglo-American axis.

Instead, America’s own violations and war crimes, and those of its strategic allies, are dutifully mentioned in the press, but otherwise ignored or justified or excused and sometimes covered up.  Israel, an egregious rogue state that refuses to comply with innumerable UN resolutions ordering its withdrawal from the occupied territories, freely commits war crimes against, and seriously abridges the rights of Palestinians, largely with impunity. Perversely,  Palestinians, the victims, are denounced for resorting to violence to defend themselves. No condemnations are hurled at the KLA, or earlier, the “contras”, for relying on the barrel of the gun to further their own é and Washington’s — political aims. Palestinians, it seems, are alone in the world in being expected to respond peacefully to every provocation. For the most part, they’ve responded with stones, and, occasionally, suicide bombs, for which they’re portrayed as violent monsters. The Israeli army, however, can launch missile attacks against civilian targets, while newspaper columnists wonder aloud how long Israel will be able to show “restraint.”

Meanwhile, Jean Chretien, Prime Minister of Canada, and one of the participants at the G-8 Summit at Genoa, denounces violence. “Violence, I reject,” says the prime minister. “I’m a democrat, so violence is a criminal act, and there are laws for that.”

One sentence, three lies. Chretien doesn’t reject violence; he doesn’t let law stand in the way of using violence; and that he’s a democrat, is questionable, at best.

Consider: Chretien gave the okay to Canada flying 10 percent of the sorties against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999. You can call it humanitarian intervention, but strip away the euphemisms and it’s violence, pure and simple. Chretien has the blood of 10 percent of the civilian deaths on his hands, between 50 and 200 people.  Hundreds more are permanently disabled because of Canadian bombs.

That he, who once “took out” a protester by grabbing the unfortunate by the neck and hurling him to the ground,  respects laws against violence, is laughable. Canada’s participation in the 1999 Anglo-American muscle flexing against Belgrade, violated innumerable laws, not least of which was a cornerstone of international law that prohibits violent attacks against countries which are not engaged in armed aggression against other countries.  Chretien, and other NATO leaders, said they had to break international law, for a higher, political, and humanitarian purpose. Genoa’s violent protesters say they broke a few laws, for a higher, political, and humanitarian purpose, too. The difference was, NATO suffered no casualties, but killed thousands and injured many more. The Genoa protesters killed no one, but suffered casualties, including one death.

As to Chretien being a democrat, the prime minister refused to let Canada’s legislative body, the House of Commons, debate Canada’s use of violence against Belgrade. To Chretien’s way of thinking é he,  the great anti-violent, democrat — what violence Canada unleashes overseas, is not a matter to be decided by the Canadian people, or even their parliamentary representatives.

Chretien though is no more or less a hypocrite than other world leaders, including U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said the Genoa protests led him to think the world had gone mad. He echoed Chretien’s “violence is anti-democratic” sentiments.

Blair, who says he was elected, and therefore represents the British people and should be allowed to speak on their behalf without having to deal with protesters, hardly has a broadly-based mandate. He was elected by roughly one-quarter of the eligible electorate in an election that saw most people stay home. As fewer people turn up at the polls, more take to the street. Blair has never wondered, openly anyway, whether there’s a connection.

As to Blair’s credentials as one who rejects violence for politic ends, Britain’s participation in the almost daily bombing of Iraq, it too illegal under international law, and its ardent seconding of the air war against Yugoslavia, leaves no room for doubt. He hardly rejects violence, or respects the law. Not him, not George W. Bush, and not one of the leaders of the G-8.

Indeed, that the G-8 countries (minus Russia) can lay claim to being the richest countries in the world, is largely the result of a centuries-long tradition of resorting to violence to get their way, and using laws and prohibitions against violence to straight jacket anyone who fights back.

Little has changed. Not the violence, not the contempt for democracy, and definitely not the hypocrisy.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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