I can claim to have had a small hand in instigating the legal complaint to the International Criminal Court by the Comoros Islands against the murders by Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara. The Washington Post writes:
In a filing, lawyers from the Istanbul-based law firm Elmadag argued that the events that took place on the Mavi Marmari should be considered as having occurred on the territory of Comoros.
As though this were in any sense a matter of dispute. That crimes committed on any ship outside of territorial waters are under the jurisdiction of the flag state of the ship, is both customary international law of ancient standing and a fundamental provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Ships shall sail under the flag of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for in international treaties or in this Convention, shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas.
The Comoros Islands are a tiny state off the East coast of the continent. They are part of the disgraceful system where small or failed states lease out their shipping registers – often corruptly – to western companies who run them, enabling major shipping owners to evade safety, conditions, qualifications and pay regulations of more serious states. Liberia has been the most notorious example. The Comoros government therefore deserves huge congratulation for taking its flag state responsibility so seriously, and so bravely, in taking on Israel.
It is a responsibility Turkey deliberately shed just before the Mavi Marmara was attacked.
There is, in this regard, as I reported from my meetings with organisers and bereaved families of the Mavi Marmara in Izmir two years ago, something extremely disturbing about the case of the Mavi Marmara:
Shortly before sailing, the registration was switched from Turkey to the Comoros Islands. This exempted Turkey from the responsibility of jurisdiction. It also made discussion at NATO much easier for the US; if the Israelis had attacked in international waters a ship flying the flag of a NATO state, that would have been a much more difficult thing for the alliance to ignore.
It turns out that the change was made at the insistence of the Turkish Ministry of Transport. They carried out a number of inspections of the Mavi Marmara prior to the Gaza trip and made repeated demands for changes: mattresses and cushions had to have more modern, fire resistant foam. Internal walls had to be upgraded for fire resistance. Whatever changes were then made, the Ministry found new faults. In the end, the Ministry had said that the Mavi Marmara would be impounded unless it changed its registration, as it could not meet the safety requirements for a Turkish flagged ship.
The strange thing is that the Mavi Marmara had been Turkish flagged for years, and hade been running tourist cruises out of Istanbul. None of the faults the Ministry found resulted from any changes, yet none had apparently been a problem on past inspections. The family told me that, before the Mavi Marmara sailed, they had been in no doubt the Turkish government had been deliberately obstructive and had forced the change of flag.
Part of the Turkish state was insistent on giving the Mavi Marmara no protection. You have to ask the question, did these people know in advance the Mavi Marmara was to be attacked? The fatal shootings on board were mostly not random – they were targeted shots to the head of selected people. If Israel had planned this, how long in advance, where did they get their intelligence on who was aboard? If they had assistance from within the Turkish state, of course the Turkish state would want to ensure they did not have legal responsibility over the killings.
Let me be plain. I am not accusing the current government of Turkey. But they inherited a bureaucracy and political establishment riddled, especially at the most senior levels, with ultra-nationalists and relatives and connections of the Turkish military. The Turkish Foreign Office in particular is notoriously ultra and completely penetrated and corrupted by Israel. The Turkish government has had a most difficult job in changing the direction of the country without provoking violent nationalist reaction. That has been a process; and the result is that those apparently in power did not in reality get control of all the levers of power at once.
We are a long way yet from knowing the full truth about the Mavi Marmara: and Israel is not the only place to look.