Mark Latham’s decision to pull Australian troops out of Iraq after June 30 would defy international law, according to a senior Australian academic at the United Nations University.
An author of the new international bible on humanitarian intervention law and vice-rector of the UN University, Professor Ramesh Thakur, said today that as an occupying power after invasion, Australia had strict responsibilities to the people of Iraq.
He said Australia could lawfully withdraw from Iraq only after sovereignty was given back to the people of Iraq and “sustainable peace” was achieved.
By invading Iraq, Australia had confiscated its sovereignty, and became legally, politically and morally responsible for security, services, welfare and all other responsibilities of government until sovereignty was returned to the Iraqi people.
The planned June 30 transitional handover of sovereignty did not abrogate Australia’s responsibilities, he said. This is because the interim constitution had not been drawn up by the people of Iraq, but by the occupiers and their appointees. For a handover of sovereignty to occur, an election would have had to have been held.
Professor Thakur said there were even higher international obligation imposed on nations claiming they invaded for reasons “other than imperial aggression”. This was the obligation to ensure “a sustainable democracy” by embedding a functioning Parliament and an independent judicial system.
He also said Australia had “a moral and political obligation to the people of Iraq” to “stay the course and get the job completed”.
The comments expose one difficulty of Mark Latham’s policy to get Australian troops home by Christmas, despite the continuing guerilla war and the lack of elections. Labor based its opposition to invading Iraq without UN authority because of its professed respect for and belief in international law and the UN. Yet now, after opposing the invasion as illegal, Labour faces the prospect of breaching that same set of laws by pulling out.
Professor Thakur spoke at a Parliamentary Library seminar called “the duty to protect” hosted by Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd, who praised Professor Thakur�s work and international standing.
Professor Thakur said the United States had now learned that while the UN might not be needed to invade a nation, “you do need UN blessing for the peace”. “Winning in war is meaningless without a secure peace.”
He said the US had failed to get UN endorsement for war on Iraq because most of the UN member states believed that the invasion of Iraq was not justified.
The stakes were so high that the UN Security Council had to say no because “it will be less relevant if it has no capacity to say no to the US on matters of principle when we knew it was wrong”.
“Going along to get along doesn�t make good policy,” he said, for the UN, or “the US allies”.