Prof. Ruth Wedgwood to Speak on "Rethinking the Role of International Organizations," Nov. 26
Professor Ruth Wedgwood's talk will focus on questions that have become more immediate and more difficult since the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Should the United States treat terrorism as an act of war or as a crime? is the first dilemma, according to Wedgwood. Other speculations cascade from this. Should the U.S. respond unilaterally or multilaterally? Should accused terrorists be tried by U.S. courts, military tribunals, or criminal tribunals established by the United Nations?
And in this new terrain, "how well adapted are the collective security mechanisms at the UN?" asks Wedgwood.
All of this is in flux, but Wedgwood points out that "inadvertently there was some good work in the 1990s" toward establishing standards for responding to terrorist acts. The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings of 1997 and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 1999 "ended any shelter for politically motivated crimes" by "creating a duty to try or else to extradite an offender." Wedgwood calls these conventions "post-Cold War moments" because of the consensus the U.S. and Russia reached in declaring attacks on civilians unacceptable.
Another step was taken on September 28, 2001, when the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution requiring all nations to end ties with terrorist groups and freeze their assets. The resolution vests the Security Council with the power to determine which groups are terrorist groups and impose sanctions on nations that support or shelter them. Again, Wedgwood points out that this can be seen as a break from the Cold War, when both superpowers supported activities in various developing countries that could fall under the new prohibition.
The resolution, which was proposed by the U.S., was easily and rapidly accepted, even by Russia and China, nations that have often opposed UN interventions. Wedgwood sees a "new political architecture" emerging at the UN, with Russia, China, and the U.S. as the three most powerful nations. Furthermore, the role of the Security Council is changing. While it has been "shaken" by attacks on its legitimacy in recent years, this resolution gives it broad new powers.
This international anti-terrorism framework combined with the precedent of the United Nations criminal tribunal in the Hague seems to present one answer to the question of how to try terrorists: through the UN. However, Wedgwood remains skeptical of the capacity of international criminal tribunals established by the UN to deal with the post-September 11 demands. "Don't be too optimistic about what multilateral tribunals can do," she cautions.
Each individual scenario brings troubling complications, Wedgwood says. For instance, in the current situation, one might want to include Muslim judges on a panel. But some governments won't allow their judges to serve, and some Muslim judges will refuse to sit with Israeli colleagues. Also, these kinds of tribunals haven't yet shown the efficiency to handle large numbers of accused. Although Wedgwood says she is a "big fan" of the proceedings in the Hague, she points out that the tribunal has only processed 21 cases to date.
Another option is the type of special military tribunal authorized by President Bush on November 13. These commissions are designed to work fast and maintain the secrecy of classified evidence. Wedgwood points out that right now "military tribunals can be what you make of them." And while some criticize the potential violations of civil rights in this forum, Wedgwood points out that many of the same qualities exist in the multilateral tribunals--such as the admission of hearsay evidence, verdicts by non-unanimous vote, and secrecy.
"It's important to have some degree of transparency," Wedgwood notes, and regular procedures and safeguards will have to be drafted. But Wedgwood sees military tribunals as a potential compromise, or middle way, within the question, Is it war or justice?
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