New Internationalist

Why I attempted to arrest Tony Blair last week

Last Thursday, I attempted a citizen's arrest of Tony Blair for crimes against peace as he was about to present a speech at Hong Kong University about faith. It seems particularly dubious for the ex-British Prime Minister to address the subject of religion, as he has done so much to enrage the Muslim world and thus set back religious tolerance by decades.

My confrontation with Blair came during the deadliest week of violence in Iraq since the US pull-out, and a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor asked judges to hand down their first sentence to a fellow war criminal, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga. All current ICC investigations and prosecutions are related to African nations, yet Mr Blair's status as an ex-Western leader does not exempt him from its founding Rome Statute, to which Britain is a signatory.

Some will find the comparison absurd but there is little moral difference when the products of their respective leaderships were mass human rights violations against civilian populations. Blair has requested that people ‘move on’ from the Iraq War yet, with documented civilian deaths now totalling at least 107,000, leading QC Michael Mansfield has confirmed that there now appears to be enough evidence to trigger an ICC investigation. Legally, the type of weaponry deployed in the war (depleted uranium and cluster bombs) can be described as ‘indiscriminate’, thus making him liable for mass civilian causalities.

As I put to Blair personally, he is answerable to the sixth 1950 Nuremburg Principle which forbids ‘wars of aggression’ and gave rise to the Rome Statute – I also stated that he defied articles 31 and 51 of the UN Charter. Leaked Downing Street memos from 2002 reveal his determination to follow the US into Iraq despite knowing his government would be violating the two aforementioned UN articles which would permit an invasion.

In fact, the later discredited evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was irrelevant to Blair as he admitted during the 2009 Chilcot Inquiry that he would have attacked Iraq regardless as to whether such WMDs were discovered.

Blair responded to the charges I put to him by joking to his audience how he’s ‘used to’ such protests and how ‘that’s democracy for you.’ I do not know whether he believes the incident showcased freedom of speech or whether he was lamenting such political rights, but Britons will be familiar with the erosion of civil liberties he brought about in the UK. His Orwellian legacy leaves fewer effective options remaining in the activist’s toolbox.

Neither the coalition nor the opposition harbour much political appetite for a domestic criminal investigation, I therefore encourage members of the public to heed journalist George Monbiot’s call to challenge Blair directly and pursue peaceful citizen’s arrests against him.

My own attempt turned out to be the least controversial thing I’d ever done – the public seemed unified across comment sections and social networks, from the left and right, that there is a strong case against him. However, he continues to travel freely around the world earning millions as head of a complex, opaque mix of political, business and philanthropic ventures. He commands huge sums from the financial industry and even accepted £13 million ($20.4 million) to advise brutal Kazakh autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It was improbable that Hong Kong police would uphold local law and frogmarch the ex-PM to The Hague, but there has been some success in renewing awareness of the outstanding legal questions. One day, it is hoped the charges will stick and he may finally find himself in court. In the meantime, it is important that the pressure is maintained, that the media spotlight is constant and that Mr Blair rightly continues to feel the threat of prosecution wherever he goes.

Tom Grundy, 29, is a British activist based in Hong Kong. He is eligible for a bounty of £2400 ($3,760) from arrestblair.org for his arrest attempt which he will donate to relevant charities such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.

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