Daily archives: March 6, 2014


Sometimes an ethical dilemma can arise between justice in an individual case, and the wider needs of society.  In general, pursuing individual justice should be the priority; the law should indeed be blind.  One of the greatest abuses of power in the UK in my lifetime was Tony Blair’s intervention to halt the prosecution of BAE executives for massive corruption, on the basis that revealing corruption among Saudi sheikhs, and damaging our great manufacturer of instruments of death, was against the “wider national interest”.

The long term consequences of such exceptionalism are a license for government abuse.  However, in the question of the guarantees given to wanted paramilitaries from Northern Ireland that they would not be prosecuted, I believe the correct thing was done, and the coming inquiry is not helpful – it is like sticking a knife into a wound to check how it is healing.

I grappled with these questions in a still more extreme form as UK representative at the Sierra Leone peace talks.  The only way to end long-running violent conflicts is to talk and reason with the parties, and seek to redress the underlying causes of conflict.  To seek to inflict further state violence, in the form of imprisonment, can undermine the process.  This requires very difficult moral compromise, and it is unavoidable that victims will feel they have not obtained individual justice.  I can even understand that in these circumstances it can be right for certain amnesties or actions to be unacknowledged or secret.

Peter Hain spoke great sense last week when he said that to keep the peace in Northern Ireland, we have to let go of the past, and stop pursuing not only IRA men, but also policemen, soldiers and official murderers like those who organized the killing of Pat Finucane.  This is hard indeed for the families and the maimed, I realize.  I am also particularly pleased that John Downey did not have to stand trial; experience shows that the chances of a fair trial for accused Irish nationalists in England are slim.

View with comments

Crimea Referendum

The principle of self-determination should be the overriding consideration, and the Crimean Parliament’s decision to hold a referendum on union with Russia is something which always needed to be part of a solution.  But plainly  this month is much too fast, and a referendum campaign which gives people an informed and democratic choice cannot be held while the Crimea is under Russian occupation and those against the proposed union with Russia are suffering violence and intimidation.

The EU needs to move towards Putin.  An approach that sticks rigidly to Ukrainian territorial integrity being inviolate is sterile.  An international agreement is possible, if the EU makes plain to Russia that it accepts the principle of self-determination.  Agreement should then be reached on immediate withdrawal of Russian forces into their allocated bases in Crimea, and back to Russia if there are indeed extraneous numbers, and an international monitoring presence for the OSCE.

The referendum should then be scheduled for the end of this year, with guarantees of freedom of speech and campaigning, equal media access and all the usual democratic safeguards, again to be monitored by the OSCE.

The apparent pullback from violence has been very useful, but the diplomatic and economic fallout is still potentially very damaging.  Following the Anschluss, Hitler held a referendum in Austria within one month of the military takeover and received 99.7% support.  At the moment Putin stands open to a legitimate accusation of pulling precisely the same stunt in precisely the same timescale.




View with comments