The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Photo by JL
By John LaForge
HAMBURG, Germany — Between Sept. 22 and 25, the German campaign “Büchel is Everywhere! Nuclear Weapons-Free Now” conducted a pair of rallies and a bicycle protest ride between Karlsruhe, Germany and Strasbourg, France to draw attention to unresolved court cases about anti-nuclear weapons protests and to the threat of nuclear attacks alarmingly highlighted by the NATO-supplied war in Ukraine.
In Germany, 20 nuclear weapons abolitionists have appealed trespass convictions resulting from their protest actions at Büchel Air Force Base, which holds 15-to-20 U.S. nuclear weapons. The country’s highest tribunal, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, has dismissed all 20 of them without comment, simply affirming lower court decisions. From these 20 cases, six activists have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The ECHR considers cases in which defendants have exhausted legal recourse in their EU country but believe trial courts erred or violated rights and freedoms established in the European Convention on Human Rights.
In his 1985 study Humanizing Hell! The Law V. Nuclear Weapons (Hamish Hamilton, London), George Delf presents the legal case against the threatened use of nuclear weapons. In chapter five “The Judge’s Tale,” Delf explains the role of judges and court systems in protecting nuclear weapons establishments by ignoring international legal prohibitions that forbid mass destruction and even the planning of it.
Speaking at rallies outside the high court in Karlsruhe September 22, and again at the gates of the ECHR in Strasbourg September 25, I presented Delf’s critique in abridged form:
Judges here and in the U.S. are afraid of international law. In Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere, when judges have been given the opportunity to enforce laws intended to restrict military violence, they have mostly turned a blind eye to the law, and a deaf ear to those of us who sought its support. Germany’s Constitutional Court has now done so 20 times. So far, the ECHR has ignored six applications alleging that Germany’s judges unlawfully ignored treaties that forbid the nuclear attack planning going on at Büchel.
Our nonviolent actions at Büchel Air Force Base all attempted to interfere with its planning and preparing for indiscriminate mass destruction using U.S. nuclear weapons. Nuremberg law holds that individuals who participate in planning a war “in violation of international treaties” are committing a war crime. The top prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crime trial, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, said, “A basic provision of the [Nuremberg] Charter is that to plan, prepare, initiate, or wage a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances, or to conspire or participate in a common plan to do so, is a crime.”
Because the nuclear bombs at Büchel can only produce poisoned attacks outlawed by the Hague Conventions of 1907, and because they are known in advance to cause indiscriminate destruction of civilians, massacres, the base is a crime scene and our interventions there are acts of crime prevention.
At trial, it would be reasonable to expect that our reliance on international law would attract the keen interest of judges who are paid handsome salaries to enforce the law.
This has hardly ever happened. Instead, we’ve been met with a mixture of silence and evasion. Over and over again the judges have refused to confront the most important issue ever to face any civilization — its survival or annihilation.
With rare exceptions, judges in Germany, the U.S., France, and Russia — the same four states that enforced the Nuremberg Judgment — all work silently to evade and avoid Nuremberg’s plain logic.
In trial after trial, when the judges have heard us explain the Nuremberg crimes underway at Büchel [and at nuclear weapons installations elsewhere], they have often silently and passively ignored our defense. Or they have actively played their part in the Kabuki dance theater that says international law is not relevant in lower courts, and that testimony on the question from experts in treaty law is unnecessary. Instead of facing the most serious existential threat endangering the world, judges have made much of obeying trespass statutes. These judges have a lot to answer for, since the very essence of the Nuremberg Charter and Judgment is that individuals have international duties that go before any national obligations of obedience imposed by the State.
We have engaged in civil resistance, and we’ve endured trial and imprisonment in avoid collaboration with our governments’ nuclear weapons attack preparations, and to interfere with ongoing criminal acts. People of good will understand that this resistance is a public expression of withdrawing our consent from the government’s most self-destructive wrongdoing.
Our resistance can also raise the consciousness of the larger community and dramatize the seriousness and urgency of the issue. With a globalized war being waged in Ukraine and increasing the threat of nuclear weapons attacks, the issue could not be more urgent.
Our resistance, and the lawful defense of our actions at trial and on appeal give the courts, the public prosecutors, educators, and the media an opportunity to address the gravest of all issues. Sometimes our defiance creates a crisis of conscience among observers who then face a choice of whether or not to collaborate, to stay silent, or to do something for nuclear disarmament.
Nuclear weapons threaten to destroy civilization and much of biological life on earth. Yet a former U.S. administration had the gall to urge countries to withdraw their ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Ray Acheson, director of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom disarmament program, and a key advocate in the establishment of the TPNW, said of the absurd demand which had never before made by any head of state: “It’s incredible that a nuclear-armed state is demanding other countries withdraw from a treaty banning nuclear weapons.” Acheson added, “When a ‘military power’ is this afraid of international law, you know you’ve done it right.” ###