THE GOLAN HEIGHTS – VENEZUELA – AND THE RULE OF LAW

By Courtenay Barnett

I wish to provoke serious thought.

Yes – because without thought there is little understanding; with little understanding there is confusion; with confusion there is then easily manipulated conflict; with conflict there is more arms selling and then those who own weapons have a deadly habit of using the manufactured weapons. With more wars and global instability – there is an ever increasing advance with closer proximity to nuclear war.

Thus said, so what then do the Golan Heights and Venezuela have to do broadly with the Caribbean – and then narrowly with Jamaica?

I shall – or – at the very least – try to ( with some attempt at logical thought) – explain.

Background 

I am, by professional training, a lawyer, whose specialist legal subject ( of choice) was international law.

I am, by choice, a person who practises law in the domestic courts ( i.e. I am not in the UN or arguing cases in the Hague) but deal with legal disputes at the national level in my formal professional capacity.

The foregoing thus said, does not mean that I have relinquished all interest in that which I specialised in, nor does it mean, at all, that my mind is not attuned nor enhanced by the exchanges and interchanges with persons who have an interest in global issues of moment – much greater than themselves.

The Golan Heights: What is  the main legal issue all about?

Well, we must start with the Rule of International law.

Why do we find that from the date of the establishment of Israel as a state –  there has been pivotal conflict in the Middle East?

Why do we find that for all the attempts to challenge – or – even question Israel within the UN General Assembly or in the Security Council – the US has relentlessly vetoed all such questions and/or resolutions?

Was it not – President Barack Obama – who for the first time had the US abstain from vetoing on a certain resolution and thus of some 70 or so prior Israel resolutions blocked by the US – the US for once said – “Israel – maybe this time  you are wrong?”

Why is it that the US ( under the Trump administration)  is the only country, in all the nation states of the world, which accepts that the Golan Heights is entitled to be occupied via war and then acquired as expanded Israel territory? So, what is the position under international law regarding the Golan Heights?

Let me attempt to answer – only the last question.

The answer can be made by reference to Security Council resolution number 497 which was passed in December 1981. It directly addressed the issue of  Syria’s Golan. In effect, the seizure by Israel in June 1967 was illegal. In part this was said:-

“(T)he Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

“Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decision;”

‘Determines that all the provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War…apply to the Syrian territory occupied by Israel since June 1967.”

International Law does not accept that territory acquired during a war by the victor then becomes the victor’s territory. If that were so, one may recall  that Germany under the Nazis was defeated by allied forces. There was a divided Germany between East Germany ( supplicant to the then Soviet Union) – and – West Germany ( supplicant to the US). Then, at the time of the US Presidency of Ronald Reagan and Gorbochov in the then still existing Soviet Union, there was a monumental shift and Germany was reunited. At no time was Germany – not Germany – for  historical and geographical border lines took it back to a reunited nation and neither did Russia ( within the Soviet context) – nor – the US claim defeated German territory to be their own; the US –  did not plant its flag there – nor did Russia proclaim Germany to be a part of Russia. The point to be made is that the overarching international law did not permit nor did it endorse the invalidation of territorial sovereignty of either of the two  Germany(s).

The international community has a well based understanding of such principles in operation. Why so?

Well, if it were otherwise – then as in days of old, the colonialists and imperialists would simply continue to superimpose and conquer. The contemporary world – at least in legal theory – seeks not to have a continuation of the ‘conquistador’ past.

Well, let me momentarily divert. 

Crimea: Was this conquest or a territorial  reclamation?

The background indicates that the Crimea had been Russian. During the Soviet Union era; Stalin ( it is said in a drunken stupor) gave it to Ukraine. *

  • N.B. Truth be told, the history is a bit harsher than that for there were Tartars in Crimea. Crimea had been a  part of Russia from 1783. Subsequently, the Soviet policy of population transfer within the then Soviet Union did  itself mirror harsh dictatorial rule. In 1940, the Crimean Socialist Soviet Republic existed. In 1954 Crimea was voluntarily transferred by the Soviet Union to Ukraine ( then – Ukrainian Republic). In 2014 there was a referendum held in Crimea and the result was that Crimea rejoined Russia. 

What does international law have to say on the subject?

Does the UN Charter permit and/ or not recognise a right to self-determination?

If it is so, then:-

  1. Why can Scotland have a right to a referendum to decide whether the Scots will or will not (if they  want to) remain with Britain – or – revert to being again an independent Scotland; yet
  2. The people residing in Crimea are  not so equally entitled to do?

Back to the Golan Heights annexation issue. UN Resolution 497 is clear:-

“(T)he Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

To sum it up – President Trump is one man standing – almost totally alone – seeking politically to prop up his ally, Netanyahu, in Israel – who is accused of serious criminal wrongdoing ( as anyone can discern). Trump himself ( but for his Presidential position) is ironically in a ‘birds of a feather’ situation as his now indicted friend – Netanyahu.

There is no legal basis to profess and/or proclaim the Golan Heights is an acquired territory to be  part of Israel as the spoils of war – but who cares?

MIGHT IS RIGHT!

Venezuela: I start with personal commentary.

At the hotel where I eat each morning, I saw from my usual corner, the new face of a young man. That was about a year ago.

He was a Black man and we struck up a conversation.

Turns out he was a consultant and expert in computer technology. He was not more than in his mid- thirties, at my best guess. I questioned him on what he was doing in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).

His answer came. He was from a poor Venezuelan family and would not, but for the policies of Hugo Chavez, have been able to attend university and he would not have been able to do advanced computer studies in France for the same reason.

So,  I asked him about his thoughts on Chavez and Maduro.

He informed me that he appreciated his education as afforded. He went on to say that he did not see either President as corrupt – but – he thought that the people around both of them were extremely corrupt.

So, we continued.

He said that he had a young family to support and was therefore selling his professional services around the world – to Digicel in the TCI – as he was then doing – for he needed to survive.

Very human story there.

Thus, just a few ‘fact checks’ out there:-

  1. “US and European governments have been working on freezing Venezuelan assets in recent months, including CITGO, the US-based subsidiary of state oil firm PDVSA, as well as US $1.2 billion worth of gold held in the Bank of England. According to Washington, these assets are being held to finance a “future government” led by self-declared “Interim President” Juan Guiado and to avoid alleged corruption on the part of the current government. US Vice President Mike Pence recently urged other countries to apply similar measures against Venezuelan assets.”
  2. “The asset freezes have come alongside sanctions, with an oil embargo imposed in late January and sanctions against the mining sector announced earlier this week.”
  3. “The tactic here is therefore to inflict as much hardship and misery on Venezuelans — from systematic power cuts — and then tell them “the price” for relief is to topple President Maduro. That is in spite of Maduro having been elected last year by a huge majority in free and fair elections.”
  4. “Don’t you think it is a bit much for Washington to steal $21 billion of Venezuela’s money, impose sanctions in an effort to destabilize the country and to drive the Venezuelan government to its knees, blame Venezuelan socialism (essentially nationalization of the oil company) for bringing “starvation to the people,” and offer a measly $21 million in “humanitarian aid.”

I checked the top 37 nations on the UN’s list of the Food and Agriculture Organisation ( FAO) of countries in most urgent food need and I did not find Venezuela listed. Food is coming in from the UN and from the Red Cross, but Venezuela is not on the crisis list; but, indeed there is an economic crisis.

(“The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland”, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.”)

All to say this. 

It is about 50 states in the world which have sided with President Trump on his ‘regime change’ posture over Venezuela. So, more than  two-thirds of  member states of the United Nations do not see Guiado as a legitimate President – or – “interim- President” – so termed) – but President Trump ‘democratically’ tells the world what tune to march to into Venezuela.

Let me ask this:-

  1. In the early  1980s Mr. Edward Seaga was the elected Prime Minister of Jamaica.
  2. Jamaica had Mr. Michael Manley as the leader of the Opposition.
  3. P.M. Seaga and Mr. Manley had agreed that it would be right not to have a General Election before the existing voters’ list was cleaned as there was evident electoral fraud permissible under the old voters’ list.
  4. In Grenada the then Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was murdered and this politically impacted the English speaking Caribbean in particular, working to the advantage of then P.M. who seized the moment and called a new election on the old voters’ list.
  5. Mr. Manley boycotted the election called by Mr. Seaga.
  6. Mr. Seaga won all the seats in the Jamaican Parliament.

Since Mr. Manley, had not contested the election; had any world power backed him – then proclaimed him “the interim- Prime Minister of Jamaica” – the Jamaican people would have immediately seen this as quite ludicrous. How can you be offered political cake to eat; refuse to eat; then say regardless of the facts and the election, the  power still remains mine? From my recollection – and by reference to the Jamaican analogy as I recalled events – that is the equivalent of what Mr. Juan Guiado is seeking to do in Venezuela. There having been some 16 parties which ran in the last Venezuelan election ( with an offer made for international observers to be present) – Mr. Guiado refused to participate – then with the assistance of the US – proclaims himself the lawful President.

How does such a ludicrous situation arise? 

I shall share my opinion.

If one, as an economist, would ask the question:-

Prior to the Hugo Chavez Presidency, by reference to the indicia of poverty, nutrition, education, health, housing, employment and  income distribution, what were the facts then compared to the crisis situation now in Venezuela? A more honest overall picture might emerge.

Well, the oil was nationalised – and now the self-appointed ‘President Guiado’, wants to return his country to privitisation of the country’s oil and the ‘good old days’ when:-

More than 70 percent of the Venezuelan population did not meet minimum calorie and protein requirements, while  approximately 45 percent were suffering from extreme undernourishment. 

More than half of Venezuelan children suffered from some degree of malnutrition.

Infant mortality was exceedingly high.

23 percent of the Venezuelan population was illiterate. The rate of functional illiteracy was of the order of 42%.

One child in four was totally marginalized from the educational system (not even registered in the first grade of primary school).

More than half the children of school age never entered high school. 

A majority of the population had little or no access to health care services. 

Half the urban population had no access to an adequate system of running water within their home.

Unemployment was rampant. 

More than 30 percent of the total workforce was unemployed or underemployed, while 67 percent of those employed in non-agricultural activities received a salary which did not enable them to meet basic human needs (food, health, housing, clothing, etc.).

Three-quarters of the labor force were receiving revenues below the minimum subsistence wage.”

In plain English, the National Security Advisor, John Bolton, said this to Fox News:-

“It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,”

And, Mr. Bolton, you should also note that Venezuela is but one of merely seven countries in the world to have reserves of coltan, which is the valuable black mineral that combines niobite and tantalite and is used in cell phones and computer chips. The Venezuelan Minister of Mining gave an estimated value of US$100 billion of Venezuela’s supplies.

Brings back to mind, the 1970s in Jamaica when Jamaica used a Bauxite levy to stop giving away its valuable asset at ‘colonial prices’. To my mind,  the issue was not the legal justifiability of the  levy, but the manner in which the acquired wealth  was spent; not spent wisely ( i.e. viewed through the eyes of an economist).

So, the US in Venezuela – must continue to apply SMDs –  ‘Sanctions of Mass Destruction’ to effect ‘regime change’ to achieve the clearly expressed  objective, as Mr. Bolton told Fox News.

It is this kind of hypocritical lunacy being foisted off on the peoples of the world ( some who refuse to think independently, question or assess on any basis that may bear reference to the long established principles of law and governance and indeed – international law). 

Venezuela bailed out the Jamaican economy at a critical point.

Some – the vast majority of  CARICOM (i.e. the pre-eminent grouping of Caribbean nations )-  have taken a principled stance on this Venezuelan issue.

Jamaica’s PM Holness sees ( along with 3 other Caribbean leaders ) short-term gain to be had, so sides with President Trump’s ‘regime change’ policies.

Yet – I ask one final question:-

What change to be effected in Venezuela: change like the lied into Iraq invasion and the bombed out Libya- to what long-term benefit for the majority of the people of Iraq, Libya or now – Venezuela whose generous oil gifts via Petro Caribe gave the Jamaican economy urgently needed  breathing space?

Those reading my observations simply answer with honesty in your minds first; then your hearts; then express yourselves as you will or may on my commentary on the applicable rules of international law.

Conclusion

Again, it seems to me, as points of international law, as referenced above, that there are two global routes to go. Mine as outlined above….or?

I seem near the end of this, my article, compelled to pause; for it appears that I have been trumped by a great legal scholar of international law who strongly rebuts and questions me.

President Trump  thinks, in the interest of international peace and justice,  that it far better unilaterally to effect interventions, invasions, and ‘regime change’. His actions, indeed, rebound  much louder in the world than do my words.

Intervention ( i.e. which government invited US troops into Syria? A further point of reference under international law); invasion ( i.e. Iraq); ‘regime change’ ( i.e. Venezuela). To be fair to President Trump, it is not all his actions, for there were US foreign policy actions effected before his Presidency; the real point being that there is an identifiable and traceable linkage and continuity in US foreign policy reflecting consistent violations of the Rule of International law.

The world might heed my few simple words; or – it can embrace the legal learning of a Presidential luminary.

The choice is yours!

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* COURTENAY BARNETT is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, has been arrested for defending his views, has been  subjected to death threats, and has argued public interest and human rights cases. He lives and works in the Caribbean.