Toward global justice

The capture of Slobodan Milosevic, the decision by the International Court of Justice that the United States had ignored international law when executing two German brothers, and the turnover to Japanese authorities of an American serviceman accused of rape shed some light on U.S. attitudes toward international justice. For a long time, the United States would simply dictate to the rest of the world what justice meant, but those times are far behind. Although we may be the last remaining superpower, the rest of the world presents a formidable counterbalance to American influence. In order for there to be global justice, the United States must judge itself as it judges others around the world.

Late last month, the International Court of Justice charged the United States with failing to adhere to the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, including provisions our nation agreed to. In 1984, Karl and Walter LaGrand were convicted and sentenced to death in an Arizona court for murdering a bank teller in a botched robbery. In accordance with the Vienna Convention, because the brothers were German citizens, they had the right to consular assistance upon their arrest. This right was denied to them. By the time the international court had issued an emergency ruling, one brother had been executed and the other was scheduled to die the next day. Not only did the United States deny the LaGrand brothers their rights for over a decade – rights agreed to by our country – they also executed the remaining brother after refusing a legitimate request from the international court to stay the execution.

Throughout the situation, the United States never denied it broke the rules. However, it is easy to imagine America’s reaction when someone like Slobodan Milosevic happens to ignore international laws. What should apply to one nation should apply to all nations. As the United States gives approval – using large sums of money – to Milosevic’s handover to The Hague, it also dismisses Milosevic’s unwillingness to cooperate with the tribunal. The irony in the United States’ disapproval is disgraceful. The United States must play by the rules it has set up. This includes joining the International Criminal Court and allowing the United States to give up a small amount of autonomy.

Some more recent events suggest the United States is not entirely without reason. The government turned over to the Japanese an Air Force sergeant accused of raping a woman on Okinawa. Some might see this as an act to mollify the Japanese. In reality, it was a step toward justice, as the United States admits it is not above the law and will not hide criminals simply because they are American. This mentality is not popular and in many instances, nations will do what they can to shield their citizens. The United States should not be afraid to act in a just manner and be willing to lead by example.

Also, the United States must be fearless in working toward a just world, but more importantly, it must be willing to admit its own mistakes and flaws. Our nation must rid itself of the arrogant mentality that we have all the answers. Even extending into such matters as the Kyoto Protocols and missile defense, the United States must be willing to genuinely engage others and take their opinions into account. Only by working in concert with other nations can we hope to achieve a world where all are equally accountable to a system of justice.