Click here to go to the Home Page What is Good in the World? - By Wilson Riles - BC Guest Commentator

Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article


Constant criticism and pessimism is crazy-making. Any honest review of human histories or our own experiences will reveal this basic understanding. All too often, justice activists and revolutionaries lose credibility because they disappear into a deeply imbalanced swamp of hopelessness that is immediately recognized by the folks activists they seek to convince and these too pessimistic activists are not listened to any longer. Who wants to spend much time around someone who finds no �sunshine� anywhere? That behavior verges on clinical depression.

Admittedly, relatively speaking, one can truthfully say that for us, the 99% in the US and in the world, there is not much �sunshine� in our lives, but that has been the case - especially since the rise of conquerors and occupiers - for more than 500 years. Even oppressors know to tell LIES about the supposed misery we suffered before they take control, but lies do not change the present pain that their pens, boots, chains, and weapons visit on us. It is not lies or false hope that is needed. I am not talking about the attempted soothing words of the slave holders� LIE about Africans being better off as slaves then they would be in their villages in the Mother Land. Those �facing the barrel of the gun� are never fooled by such LIES, yet they still must find sources of hope and energy for the struggle. Even in the deepest dungeons and the worse circumstances, the human spirit does rise to find some reason to hope and to look forward. It is this hope - not our pessimism - that provides us the will to struggle on. Please take note of the gut level hopefulness of the hunger strikers of the Pelican Bay super maximum prison or the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In hopeless circumstances they valiantly struggled for more time for family visits, for better food, and a more just classification policy.

Competent organizers and motivators shine the �light� of hope into our dungeons by pointing out and recognizing real positive trends and clear, concrete steps that can lead toward better outcomes, rather than smothering hope through frenetic criticism and calls for disconnected, acting-out protests. Some vision of success, even though incremental, is necessary to sustain the struggle. It is extremely important to delineate what we are FOR�along with pointing to what we are AGAINST. It is extremely important to lay out a reasonable action path forward. Both critique and hope for the future are views necessary to motivating, steering, and sustaining us on the path to empowerment and justice. That is why, at the world level, I would like to turn to consideration of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC is an organization of nations that conducts a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (although it cannot, until at least 2017, exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression). By this April 2012, there were 121 countries that are state parties to the Statute of Rome that established the Court. This includes every nation in South America, nearly all of Europe and roughly half the countries in Africa. A further 32 countries, including Russia, have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute. However weak or limited is the functioning and jurisdiction of the ICC, let us recognize its importance for a large part of humanity as a common source for justice in these areas of concern. It represents an important step along our justice path. It holds out a reasonable direction in which to move, and that is not a utopia.

Wikipedia states that �The establishment of an international tribunal to judge political leaders accused of war crimes was first made during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 by the Commission of Responsibilities. The issue was addressed again at a conference held in Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations in November of 1937, but no practical results followed. The United Nations states that the General Assembly first recognized the need for a permanent international court to deal with atrocities of the kind committed during World War II in 1948, following the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals. At the request of the General Assembly, the International Law Commission drafted two statutes by the early 1950s but these were shelved as the Cold War made the establishment of an international criminal court politically unrealistic.� There has been a continuous movement toward strengthening and implementing a world process that challenges absolute sovereignty and nationalism and supports individual and community justice according to a world law standard.

Court conviction does not include the exercise of the barbarity of capital punishment. It requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, provides for competent defense counsel, allows for appeal, and - in the estimation of most - complies with the rights provided by the US Constitution and the constitutions of most other countries. Because the Court supplements the actions or the lack of action from national courts and is established by international treaty, it does not violate the US Constitutional requirement for the supremacy of the Federal Supreme Court.

Acknowledging that the current use of the Court has fallen more on �weak� states and African perpetrators does not cancel the hopeful potential of this world mechanism. There is active opposition in some of the more powerful countries: China and India never signed the Statute and Israel, Sudan, and the US has �unsigned� it. Opposition to the ICC in the US is part and parcel of the abomination of �American Exceptionalism� and US racism. What I hear from this US opposition would sound as follows: �How dare the other people of the world - most of whom are people of color - hold US civilian and military leaders accountable to international standards of law and justice.� Despite President Clinton�s reluctance to bring this international treaty to the Senate for ratification and President Bush�s open hostility led by UN Ambassador John Bolton, the Obama Administration has subsequently re-established a working relationship with the Court. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support the ICC. Would Obama in a second term bring the ICC to the Senate for ratification? Let�s put this on the agenda for the 2012 campaign.

The ICC is not a panacea. The current Statutes of the ICC do not allow for consideration of rights violations that happened prior to July 1 2002; whether on-going effects of prior violations can be remedied through actions by the ICC has not yet been dealt with. There are twists and turns yet to be encountered on this path. Those challenges, however, should not be discouraging since reality presents no perfect path.

Again, criticism and hope are both required. From the wisdom philosophies of the East we learn about the efficacy of balance. A deeper, wiser social psychological stance necessary to sustain the struggle is the understanding and recognition that it is �walking� the PATH along the edge of dualities and not the DESTINATION that is most important. Guest Commentator, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.

Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue

e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.

May 24, 2012 - Issue 473
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.