NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, International Committee

Newsletter, Summer 1999

VICTORY IN THE SENATE FOR CUBA!

During the evening of August 4th, the Senate passed the Ashcroft Amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The amendment is a bipartisan effort to reform current sanctions measures for food and medicine, and sets up a process by which the Administration and Congress would have to agree before future food and medicine sanctions can be imposed against any country in the world. While this is not a Cuba-specific amendment, it has a significant impact on U.S. policy toward Cuba. In fact, this is the first time that Congress has voted positively to modify the embargo on Cuba. The measure allows U.S. producers and pharmaceutical companies to sell food and medicine to Cuba, including to the Cuban government or its representatives, under year-long licenses granted by the President. The bill goes to conference committee with the House, most likely in September.

This victory happens at a time when Cuba support work has been reinvigorated in the Guild, and has never been more important. The Cuba Subcommittee has been actively planning the Guild's participation in the next International Association of Democratic Lawyers congress in Havana in October 2000. Two jurists and law professors from Cuba have been invited to the San Francisco Convention this year in October although funds are desperately needed to pay for their expenses (approximately $2,500 must be raised). To help with this effort, or for more information about the Cuba Sub-Committee, send money and requests for information to Art Heitzer, Suite 1706, 606 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukie, WI 53203, email: aheitzer@nela.org

 

THE GUILD'S RESPONSE TO THE NATO BOMBING

 

On May 18th, the Guild's National Executive Committee -after significant debate-passed a resolution condemning the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. (The full text of the resolution, as well as analyses pro and con, are printed in the Spring 1999 volume of Guild Practitioner and the Summer 1999 issue of Guild Notes). The resolution was passed several months after the bombing began, and several months after several other progressive legal organizations with which the Guild is allied -for example, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Vietnam Lawyers Association, and Droit Solidarite in France -had condemned the bombing as a violation of international law. Bruce Nestor, an attorney in Iowa City who is Executive Vice President of the Guild, discusses the Guild's response and the process which led up to it in the following article:

"The spring NEC meeting was held in New York City on April 10, sixteen days after the bombing had started. A resolution was circulated prior to the meeting which had been drafted by several Guild members. The discussion at the meeting primarily focused on whether the NEC should take a position, given what was perceived to be a difference of opinion within the Guild. There was little substantive debate about the bombing itself. Very few NEC members had an opportunity before the meeting to actually poll people within their chapter, state, committee, etc... regarding the issue. Thus, a large majority of the NEC was hesitant to take a position because of this lack of debate/discussion within the organization, even though an even larger majority of the NEC appeared to oppose the US/NATO bombing.

Subsequent to the NEC meeting, an extensive discussion process was initiated through phone calls, e-mail, and chapter meetings. Many individual Guild members contacted NEC members, Guild interact was used, and NEC members reached out to the membership. This resulted in a May 18 NEC vote by e-mail/conference call, which overwhelmingly favored the resolution recently published in Guild Notes.

 

The Guild does have an Emergency Response Committee, which in this instance was not suited to the need to conduct wide-ranging discussion. The ERC is primarily capable of issuing press releases and drafting resolutions on non-controversial issues. Given that the possibility of bombing Yugoslavia had been on the table for months, and many of the debates within the Guild and the progressive community date back years to similar questions around Bosnia, the Intl Committee could play a vital role in coordinating and conducting a discussion within the organization,which would allow the NEC to respond quicker and with more democratic debate among the membership. My own opinion is that the NEC should have taken a position in April because there was less debate within the Guild than we thought at the time and because the NEC is a large, diverse body which is elected to represent the membership and respond quickly to political questions when they arise. On the other hand, given that any resolution adopted would not affect the war, the primary purpose for taking a stand was organizational --- what do we stand for, what groups do we want to work with, how do we build membership around the positions we take? In that sense, the delay was important because it helped to prevent a minority opinion from feeling alienated or ignored. However, what we really need is an ongoing mechanism within the Guild so that a discussion can occur prior to a crisis, enabling the NEC to then take a position promptly but based upon the views of the entire membership.

Hopefully, a reconstituted Intl Committee could begin to play this role."

As noted in Bruce's article, the implications of the US/NATO bombing go beyond the atrocities committed in Yugoslavia. Given the globalization of the world economy, and U.S.'s continued need to assert its power as the "world's only remaining superpower" through bombing and sanctions, the Left generally must act more decisively and quickly to condemn such actions. Progressive legal organizations such as the Guild must develop critiques and analyses rooted in international law to support the Left's political action on these issues. Guild members such as Ann Ginger, Michael Ratner, John Quigley and many more have done this for years. But more of us need to be educated to participate in this process.

 

Past President of the Guild Peter Erlinder represented the Guild at a meeting of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Paris over the July 4th weekend for the express purpose of discussing the implications for the future from the bombing. The report of that meeting is being published on the Guild's web page (www.nlg.org). At the San Francisco convention, discussions of this issue will take place at the International Committee meeting on Thursday afternoon (arrive early so you can join us) and at a plenary to discuss the Kosovo issue. But what is most needed is a strong international committee with members who will participate in education and debate, and put forth positions for the broader organization to consider. That will only happen if people join the international committee!

 

GUILD PARTICIPATES IN INQUIRY ON US/NATO WAR CRIMES

 

Over 700 people participated in the July 31 New York City Independent Commission of Inquiry Hearing to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia. The hearing was the first of scores of meetings that will be held in cities throughout the United States, other NATO countries, and elsewhere to collect evidence, eyewitness testimony, expert testimony and analysis of Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity.

The featured presentation at the July 31 hearing was Ramsey Clark's 19-count indictment of William J. Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, William Cohen, Tony Blair, Gerard Schroeder, and other high officials in NATO and NATO countries.

The full text of the 19-count indictment is being published on the Guild's web page. There was also a collection of selected findings of the Commission of Inquiry research committee that is being published on the web page of the International Action Center.

More than 50 presentations and papers were presented at the hearing, including presentations by Will Harrell, National Vice President of the Guild, and a taped presentation by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President of the Guild.

 

NLG CHAPTERS HOST HIGH RANKING SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL

In July, after more than a year of planning and coordination by Texas Guild member Nora Dwyer, Thenjiwe Mtintso, the African National Congress' Deputy Secretary General, began an arduous and amazing journey to the US. Comrade Thenji attended cultural and political events in Houston, El Paso and San Francisco. She visited with and brought messages from the ANC to prisoners on Texas' death row, to women workers in the maquiladoras, to political prisoners in Dublin Federal Prison.

As Nora writes: "Those of us that have been involved in political activism for decades can look back and identify isolated times of historical significance. Comrade Thenjiwe's visit to the U.S. is one of those times that will be seen as having a lasting impact on our movement. She came as our friend and comrade. She leaves us knowing that we are stronger than we realized and a lot less isolated. Thenjiwe returns to South Africa with an understanding of our struggle here and the difficult times each of us face."

Nora has put out a fantastic newsletter through the Irish Unity Committee with stories and pictures from this historic visit. For copies write the Committee at P.O. Box 13142, Houston, Texas 77219-1342 or contact Nora at npdwyer@hal-pc.org.

 

ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION

I.

As Eric Sirotkin wrote in the Summer 1999 Guild Notes, the International Committee has been soliciting comments and ideas regarding the formation of a Guild Committee on Tibet. This will be one of the issues discussed at our Committee meeting in San Francisco. This newsletter can hopefully be used as a forum for discussing such topics. In that vein, this letter was received:

 

"I read your proposal for a Tibetan Subcomittee in the Summer 1999 issue of "Guild Notes". I write to urge you to reconsider this reactionary proposal.

This is an appropriate occasion to discuss Tibet, because 40 years ago today, on June 30, 1959, the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army destroyed the feudal system of serfdom and slavery that oppressed the Tibetan people for centuries. As you probably know, at the command of the State Council of the Peoples Government in Beijing, the PLA stripped the feudal theocracy of power, destroyed their military units, liberated their slaves and distributed their land to the peasants and former slaves. As I am writing this, the people of Tibet are commemorating their liberation with meetings and celebrations in Lhasa. Few in Tibet, except the old aristocracy, want to undo these forty years of progress.

Any legitimate criticism of Chinese policy in Tibet must surely recognize the enormous achievements of the 1959 social revolution: liberation, education, healthcare, and dignified work for a long suffering people in a remote region of China. But like everywhere else in China, Tibetans suffered during the chaos of the cultural revolution. Thousands of religious sites were damaged or destroyed by rampaging mobs of Tibetan and Chinese youth. China takes responsibility for the damage and is financing a massive effort to reconstruct the damaged properties.

I visited Tibet in June of 1998. In my opinion, China is protecting the cultural heritage of the Tibetan national minority. The Tibetan Peoples Congress (the organ of state power in Tibet) established a 35 hour work week in 1992, shorter than elsewhere in China, because of the harsher natural conditions there. The population is overwhelmingly rural, and overwhelmingly Tibetan. There are few Han Chinese, except in Lhasa, where there are hundreds of medical, economic, and military cadres on temporary assignment to develop and defend the region. The only long term Chinese residents I encountered were the many small restaurant owners on Liberation Street, the main thoroughfare and tourist magnet of Lhasa.

Primary education in Tibet is compulsory and is conducted in the Tibetan language. The two official languages are Tibetan and Chinese, but Tibetan is primary. All statutes are in both Tibetan and Chinese. All criminal trials of Tibetans are conducted in the Tibetan language. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations use both Tibetan and Chinese.

Under the pre-liberation legal code, one statute provided that "Women are not to be granted the right to discuss state affairs." Today there are women judges, procurators, police officers, and lawyers. Tibet had twenty delegates to the Eighth National Peoples Congress. The Tibetan Living Budda Phabala Geleg Namgyal was elected the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People Congress--a high post in the current national government. China, of course, supports affirmative action for Tibetans in university admissions, employment, and government.

Tibet is not self-sufficient. It depends on China for the importation of food, medicine and technological expertise. An "independent" Tibet would necessarily be dependent on an imperialist sponsor: the United States, with the collaboration and support of India. The Dali Lama's old feudal regime, worse than Nepal today, would be restored. Apart from the social calamity for the Tibetan people, handing Tibet over to the U.S. would be a military calamity for rest of China. China would almost certainly fight to prevent this outcome, as it did forty years ago today. The best solution to the Tibetan problem is for the Dali Lama to simply accept the reasonable conditions that China has placed on his return. He must acknowledge that Tibet is part of China, and he must renounce his plan to reestablish the theocracy. There is good reason to believe that he will, in fact, do this. As a practical matter, the current Dali Lama is elderly. When he dies, it will take the aristocracy fifteen to twenty years to locate and train his "reincarnation" to lead the independence movement. Right now the Dali Lama enjoys significant religious support within Tibet--but there is little support for his social agenda. Events in China and the rest of the world may pass him by.

The NLG has long supported progressive social revolutions. The Chinese Revolution was one of the great events of the 20th Century. It seems unlikely to me that the Guild will support a Tibetan independence movement whose principal goal is to reverse this achievement. I hope that the Guild will not support it. I urge you to rethink your support for this idea. I look forward to your response to this letter.

David W. Ewing

 

II.

Again, for discussion in San Francisco, Ann Ginger has put forth the following resolution:

 

Whenever the U.S. Government threatens or starts to use weapons in dealing with an international problem that the NLG automatically ask the following questions about the activity of the Departments of Defense, State, Energy, CIA, FBI, NSC, NATO or other regional military blocs of which the U.S. is a member:

I. Does the proposed action:

A. violate the U.S. Constitution, particularly Art. 1, Sec. 8 para. 11 that gives only Congress the power to declare war?

B. violate the War Powers Act?

C. violate the Foreign Assistance Act section forbidding foreign assistance to nations guilty of gross violations of internationally-recognized human rights?

D. violate any of the treaties on arms limitation:

i. United Nations Charter, arts. 2.3, 2.4, 51, 33-52

ii. Geneva Convention

iii. SALT I

iv. SALT II

v. Nuclear Nonproliferation Pact

E. violate the opinion of the World Court on the Legality or Illegality of Nuclear Weapons (1996)?

F. violate the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States ,  the "new international economic order" adopted by the General Assembly in 1974

 

II. Does the UN system provide an approach to the problem that would require:

A. Fewer or no use of arms

B. No or less disruption of the economic life of the nation(s) involved

C. No or less permanent damage to the environment

D. No loss of jobs

E. No damage to schools or hospitals or libraries

F. No damage to the infrastructure

G. U.S. to contribute money to the solutions

III. Will the proposed action use military weapons in a situation in which there is an alternative method that would not use military weapons, such as:

A. Filing suit in the International Court of Justice

B. Filing charges before the projected International Criminal Court

C. Filing charges before a regional International Criminal Tribunal

D. Calling a regional conference of concerned nations and peoples

E. Going to the General Assembly

F Going to the Security Council

G. Establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Implementation:

1. Several members of the NLG International Committee volunteer in advance to be on call to provide researched answers to specific items in this list within __ hours of the crisis call, and

2. Several members volunteer to send the answers to these questions to  the NEC and the NEB within ___ hours/days, and

3. Several members volunteer to draft a resolution or press release on the issue within ___ hours/days.

 

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