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Has Tutu violated his own Christian principles?

2012 September 7
by Paul Vallely

I have no time for those, on both the right and the left, who say that church leaders should keep out of politics. But Desmond Tutu’s intervention to suggest that Tony Blair and George Bush should be arraigned at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague for war crimes suggests that clerics – however distinguished in matters at the interstices of morality and politics – would do well to tread a little more carefully when it comes to the business of the law.

Archbishop Tutu called for the prosecutions as he announced that he is to boycott a conference on Leadership where he was to share a platform with Mr Blair. His grounds were that “the immorality of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history”.

Many people were alarmed and affronted by the invasion of Iraq. I opposed that war too and yet I am distinctly uncomfortable about Desmond Tutu’s high-octane outrage. I worked out why when I heard the human rights lawyer, Sir Geoffery Bindman QC, go on the radio to back the idea.

He was pitted against Mr Blair’s former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer.  And though Sir Geoffrey was strong on querulous indignation he too was wobbly on the law. For a start, though it is now clear that Tony Blair was wrong about his casus belli – the weapons of mass destruction which proved non-existent – there is no evidence that the then prime minister lied, only that he was badly-informed or self-deluded, perhaps even wilfully. And on the question of legality, as Lord Falconer made clear, it is perfectly possible to argue that the pre-war United Nations resolution 1441 gave sufficient authority to give the invasion had legitimate authority.

Most importantly the war crimes tribunals in the Hague hear cases on genocide, atrocity and crimes against humanity. Sir Geoffery’s assertion that, in the future, it will also indict wars of aggression, was disingenuous; even if that notion is ratified by the 30 states which are party to the ICC, it will only apply to crimes committed a year after the ratification. A lawyer would, of course, have known that, which is probably why Sir Geoffrey was eventually forced to concede that there would indeed be difficulty in proving a case against Mr Blair.

The Archbishop would have been far better sticking to moral condemnation – on which grounds he would find plentiful support, though many would question the one-sided calculus by which he blames Mr Blair for those people dying today in Iraq at the hands of sectarian suicide bombers, but refusing to allow the ex-prime minister credit for the lives saved by the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Instead he has strayed onto legal ice so thin it will not bear the weight of his argument. What he has done is “sex up” the grounds for legal guilt every bit as much as the infamous pre-war dodgy dossier was “sexed up”.

Some would go further, Giles Fraser has suggested elsewhere this week that Archbishop Tutu has violated his Christian principles in his refusal to sit down and dialogue with a man with whom he profoundly disagrees. That, after all, was the principle of both the black/white dialogue which brought South African apartheid to a peaceful negotiated end and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which sought to heal his nation’s wounds.

Leadership and morality are indivisible, Desmond Tutu has said. But something can be politically shaky and morally dubious without being a war crime. By muddling what is immoral with what is illegal the Archbishop has done his own position great disservice.

The Church Times

One Response
  1. L buckland permalink
    September 7, 2012

    Surely the essential point which enabled black/white reconciliation was the admission of wrong-doing, and genuine regret. The same was true of N Ireland’s Peace and Reconciliation Without that, no progress could possibly have been made.

    Probability of Tony Blair admitting he was wrong, or expressing regret, seem unlikely. We have the evidence of his legal advisers at the time, who – having told him he hadn’t a leg to stand on – were prevented from seeing his final ‘pronouncement’ which they would not have countenanced.

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