04 August 2006

Collective Punishment, by the numbers

This week, the Lebanese Minister of Justice started laying the groundwork for going after the Israeli government for war crimes.
Lebanon is planning to file a lawsuit against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Tuesday, Lebanese Minister of Justice Charles Rizk made a written petition to the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, asking him to bring up the issue in the next meeting of the Lebanese cabinet, so that the prime minister will be able to collect witnesses in preparation before filing of the complaint.

The minister wrote to the prime minister: "The repeated Israeli attacks on Lebanon, on its infrastructure, its citizens, women and children, since July 12 are a grave breech of international law and international agreements. As such, they clearly constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Of course, as far as our government is concerned, anything done in the course of a "lasting peace" is A-OK. A few parties--like the rest of the world--tend to disagree. But, then again, all THEY have on their side are those oh-so-"quaint" Geneva Conventions. One of them just happens to address procedures "relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War." (Unlike Israel today, some actually make that distinction). From the wild Wiki-people:
Article 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.

Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

"Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions collective punishments are a war crime. Article 33 states: 'No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed,' and 'collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.'

By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to 'intimidatory measures to terrorize the population' in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices 'strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice.'"
Not surprisingly, the Administration and traditional (U.S.) media explain Lebanese civilian casualties, not as collective punishment, but the inevitable result of combatting the Hezbollah fighters hiding among them. Setting aside the question of whether or not that's even the case, there's a few things that aren't open to interpretation or alternate points of view:

Population of Lebanon: 3,874,000

Hezbollah Fighters: 600-1000 active (with 3,000 - 5,000 available and 10,000 reservists)

Lebanese civilians/military killed (as of 08/04/06): 675

Lebanese civilians/military wounded: 2,327

Lebanese civilians displaced to date: 800,000-1,000,000
3,000 assorted casualties and a quarter of the country's population driven from their homes.

Doesn't get much more "collective" than that.

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