You can indict Vladimir Putin over war crimes in Ukraine. But if you do, you’d better indict Joe Biden as well. That is the message that Professor Alfred de Zayas, world-renowned human rights and international law expert, gave “MintCast” host Alan MacLeod on today’s episode of the series.
A Swiss-American lawyer, academic and United Nations official with over 50 years’ experience in the field of human rights, de Zayas joins us for a wide-ranging discussion about international law and Ukraine, U.S. sanctions, whistleblowers, the successes and failures of the United Nations and its bodies, and the growth of a new and cynical “human rights industry” that weaponizes the concept to attack foreign governments.
“The double standards [with regard to Russia] are absolutely breathtaking” de Zayas said, noting how British International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan had discontinued all investigations into NATO war crimes in Afghanistan but continued those into the Taliban against NATO. Now the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Putin, another one-sided decision that de Zayas claims has made the organization a joke:
There is no question that here, the crime of aggression has been committed, and certainly Russian troops have committed crimes in Ukraine. But you cannot prosecute one side and let the other side off scot-free. If you are going to indict a serving head of state [like Putin], then you would have to indict Joe Biden.”
The United States and NATO, he says, have been carrying out dangerous provocations in Ukraine for years, supplying weapons to militias who use them against civilians, while also carrying out similar crimes to Russia in Afghanistan, meaning that anyone with a semblance of balance or neutrality would conclude that American leaders need to be held accountable, too.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1970, de Zayas practiced law in New York and Florida. For many years, he served in various human rights organizations and as a senior official at the United Nations. From 2010 to 2013 he was editor-in-chief of Ex Tempore, the United Nations’ literary journal. Until 2018, he was UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. In addition to this, he has taught law at academic institutions across the world, including the University of Geneva, the University of Trier, the Human Rights Institute at the Irish National University and DePaul University.
De Zayas is also a prolific author and thinker attempting to construct the framework for a better world. Among his recent works include “Building a Just World Order” (2021), “Countering Mainstream Narratives,” (2022) and his latest book, “The Human Rights Industry” (2023).
De Zayas has been a leading international critic of U.S. sanctions, which, he points out, should really be referred to as “unilateral coercive measures”, as the former conveys some legitimacy to them. “It’s important not to use the term ‘sanctions’, because ‘sanctions’ implies that the country imposing them somehow has a legal or moral authority to do so and the targeted country has somehow violated international law,” he told MacLeod. In fact, he notes, it is the U.S. that regularly flouts international law, and it can get away with it because its overwhelming power has allowed it a foster “culture of impunity” for its actions, internationally.
In 2020, after travelling to the country, de Zayas described U.S. sanctions against Venezuela as akin to a medieval siege and estimated that they had killed 100,000 innocent people.
From there, the esteemed diplomat casts his ire on the mainstream, corporate media, who he claims are complicit in Western war crimes, on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which as “lost its credibility” going along with the U.S. on Syria and on those who keep Julian Assange in confinement because of his services to journalism.