10 proposals for The Future of The World Tribunal on Iraq
Presented at the workshop on the WTI at the European Network for Peace and Human Rights in Brussels 20/21 October 2005
Lieven De Cauter and Dirk Adriaensens
for the BRussells Tribunal committee
We first want to congratulate the Istanbul team for their fantastic achievement. Those who said that Istanbul was not the right place to organise a culminating session, have been proven wrong, not in the least because so many Iraqis were able to come and testify. This would not have been possible in Fortress Europe, neither in the US. This was what we all have worked for over the last two years. And this session was the cherry on the cake. As an exercise in resistance in the network society, consisting of a horizontal network with different backgrounds and opinions, this WTI-process gives hope for the future, because we managed to keep the International group together. So, let's stay on that course. This initiative is much too important to let it be divided. Unity is incredibly important if we want to achieve our goals: getting the US and other foreign troops out of Iraq. We had our platform text to guide us. Now we have the verdict which takes us one step forward. The WTI was able to unite the peace movement in several countries. Let's keep on discussing with the peace movement to undertake joint actions based on the WTI experience and conclusions. The WTI was a beacon of trust when the peace movement was divided. But there's still a lot of work to be done.
In Brussels we had our session almost more than a year ago (april 2004), and we were facing the question what to do next, how to proceed according to our conclusions. We decided to ACT. Some committees decided to dissolve, and we really think that is not a correct decision, because there's a lot of potential in this initiative. And because we were the opening session, we had more time to think about the future, and we would like to share some of our experiences and make some proposals for future cooperation. Our discussions now should concentrate on how we will proceed. Lessons have to be drawn and we have to be convinced that the best is yet to come. We're really looking forward to a most interesting and fruitful cooperation. Here some proposals (with some actions that are already in the process of materialising or done, as examples).
1) ‘Post production’: spreading of the conclusions in all sorts of manner, making a book, including all the conclusions of all the sessions, and a selection of testimonies from all the sessions is planned since long. Hopefully, it comes true. Still, a huge work has to be done: up to now, the WTI is largely unknown by the broader public. t is something we find hard to believe, but it’s a fact. We have to be aware of that, and find ways to change that.
2) Strong local committees in a global network. We need to rely on and if necessary create strong local committees, who are able to work with the peace movement of their countries, and propose actions if needed. We might need to create more committees in countries where the WTI doesn't exist. We heard a lot of echoes that the WTI experience should be repeated in the heart of the Empire: the US. 2 NYC sessions weren't enough. And we already received several requests to transfer sessions to the US. This is something to think about. Another suggestion, and this one is coming from Iraqis, is nothing less than to hold a tribunal in Bagdad. For them that would be the ultimate symbolic gesture. If this is feasible at all, is open for discussion.
3) Division of labour. These committees should ideally try to divide tasks, especially in monitoring the occupation, so that each committee has a specialisation. It would be counterproductive if every committee does the same work. So we propose to let the list know what your committee’s plans and possibilities are. Of course some actions can be common, or be brought together at some point.
4) Positive Press action. The WTI has to be a bridge between the Iraqi and Western anti-occupation voices. Translators are badly needed. We need more non-embedded news from Iraq, from its citizens, when the press fails to do so. We also need to translate important articles written by Western people to translate into Arabic. This informing function, this Press function seems of utmost importance to us (and we, in Brussels, have devoted much attention to it, and have booked some successes with it). We definitely have to think about how we can influence mainstream media and get our stories and views published.
5) Parallel information: of course, Main stream Media don’t have a monopoly anymore. So we have to take that chance.
- We should keep exchanging hot information through our list serve.
- We should try and have very informative websites. Thanks to Dirk the BRussells Tribunal website has become a website on Iraq with some authority.
- We work with Uruknet, one of the best if not the best information site available on Iraq. We can enhance this collaboration.
- We issued, in cooperation with the peace movement, the devastating report on the medical in Iraq, by Dahr Jamail.
- We collaborated with the peace movement to make a Brochure including the Istanbul conclusions and other articles on Iraq in French and Dutch.
These are just some examples of such parallel information.
6) Advisory boards/ ‘Artists & Academics for Peace’. We need to include people that were involved in our sessions as witnesses or jury or in other ways, and to establish organisational ties with them. That's why we created for instance an Advisory Committee. We have been able to discuss many things thoroughly and to give advice. If we have this sort of advisory board of specialists and people with authority and fame we can call upon them for advice, to give feedback on texts and actions etc, but also for endorsing our initiatives (like signing statements). We dream about an international sensibilisation and mobilising action called “Artists & Academics for Peace”. We believe that we should try and break the press boycott on Iraq in general and on WTI in particular, by mediagenic stance, with people like Harold Pinter, Eminem, and Arundahti Roy (who led the final session). Maybe this could surface around a benefit concert, for our legal and humanitarian action medical aid. Which brings us to point seven.
7) Concrete legal and humanitarian actions. We have to think about legal and other actions against the invasion, occupation and breaches of humanitarian law. I give three examples:
a) The WTI can be a network with one or more websites listing and documenting murdered academics in Iraq. That action is already starting up. It seems very fitting in the line of the WTI process.
b) We could and should also document and take up the cases of missing persons. Some steps have been taken already. , this seems to me very fitting in the line of the WTI process.
c) trying to coordinate in collaboration with specialised NGO’s medical emergency aid. Even if this seems too ambitious for a loose network based on a symbolic legal action, tis is in fact underway, with our Spanish friends. (More information on this can be given by Bert De Belder and Dirk during the discussion if necessary).
8) Political action. We think that we cannot avoid to go openly political now and then. I give three examples.
a) we can propose protest actions to national and international peace movement. For instance the appeal for an action on Sunday February 20th against the visit of Bush to Brussels was very successful . Here, we would like to propose very concretely Sunday march 19th 2006 as an international action day against the War.
b) we can take sharp and well argued positions. For instance the Brussels Tribunal issued a letter to Amnesty International criticising its collaboration in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution. It was controversial to some WTI members, but was signed by many witnesses, jury members and advocates.
c) the third one is very ambitious, but is suggested from inside Iraq: the possibility of organising delegations, or "international observation missions" to Iraq. For security reasons we don’t give names of the people who suggested this, but they have been and are very much involved in the WTI process. Another Iraqi adds to this: “The countries saying they are against the invasion and the opposition in all countries who participated in the invasion beside the international organisations and NGO can send observers.This is possible and we should work for it.”
9) Academic activism. We think it is very important that we consequently endeavor to make a synthesis between activism and academic research. The recently founded IACIS, International Association of Iraqi studies (which held its opening congress in London), could be an important partner in this. I give one personal example of what this could be: Steve Graham, a professor of social geography and urbanism has published a book on urbicide, the deliberate killing of cities. We could try and document with urbanists, social geographers and the like the serial killing of cities in Iraq. Nobody in my audiences, I keep checking it out, even has heard about Tal Afar. If we would document it, we could publish our findings and save these atrocities from oblivion.
10) Artistic activism. It is also important to speak to the heart. To find new ways of expressing politics. The idea of a poetry collection to be collected on a website is already taken up. We could envisage to document the exhibition Abu Gulag Freedom Park that took place in a park in Baghdad last year. We could even dream about making a travelling exhibition. But that is a also very ambitious, maybe too ambitious plan in the sense that it involves a lot of work and is not so directly political.
Time to Conclude. Some people claim that we cannot do other activities than the tribunal. Most sessions are over now, so we have to stop. But the war/occupation and the atrocities are going on (and if anything getting worse), so stopping and leaving our Iraqi friends on their own is no option. A possibility is, that we do, indeed, change the name. WTI: World Tribune on Iraq. (Like IRC changed from Interhemispherical Resource Center to International Relations Center), a shift, but one that not breaks the continuity.
There are new sessions coming up. New organisations and individuals who want to collaborate with us. There are more possibilities. We just summed up a few, but we admit that this 10 point plan is ambitious. We think we should be and I tell you why
An Iraqi said to me - I think it was after the opening session - that the WTI as a network was the only real instance where the whole planetarian protest to this war and subsequent occupation could be kept alive, continue and come together. Let's not squander this trust and dismiss its appeal too quickly. The silence in the main stream media on Iraq has become deafening. I checked it out with many students groups: nobody has even heard about Tal Afar. (Nor about the WTI for that matter) We have a tremendous responsibility. We have achieved a lot, but there are still huge potentialities.
And for those who are unwilling to make an eternal commitment, those who have to get back to their real jobs, we can say: the occupying forces are already starting to think about withdrawal. Let’s not give up now!
Lieven De Cauter and Dirk Adriaensens
for the BRussells Tribunal committee
(for more info see www.worldtribunal.org and www.brusselstribunal.org.)