Magazine article New Internationalist

In the Dock: On the Eve of the Historic First Proceedings in the World People's Court, the Chief Prosecutor Ruminates on the Task Ahead

Magazine article New Internationalist

In the Dock: On the Eve of the Historic First Proceedings in the World People's Court, the Chief Prosecutor Ruminates on the Task Ahead

Article excerpt

IT'S dark now in the building. Nobody left but me. The storm that's been slapping the mountains about for hours is now whipping over the waters of Lake Geneva to give the glass beside me a hard time. I'm safe. It can't touch me. But what about the storm I'll walk into tomorrow? After all my comfortable years of cynicism, can I really make a fist of this new role as Crusading Knight representing the Downtrodden Masses of the World?

I thought I'd left all that crusading business behind a long, long time ago in that other world called the Sixties. All of us wanted to change the world, we just chose different ways to do it. I had a friend who blew up a power plant in protest at the military-industrial complex during the Vietnam War. Others wound up with their great earthmoving novel degraded into oneliners and sound bites for ad agencies. And still others just got married and started pouring all their dreams into their kids.

Me? I went to law school, on fire with the notion that the law was all about justice. Ten years later there I was like any other lawyer, busily prosecuting the weak and the disenfranchised-crucifying them for getting involved in violence or theft in ghetto areas where they more or less had no option. Or, worse still, putting people in prison because they couldn't pay the fines imposed on them for some trivial offence-punishment for being poor.

Call me a coward or a sell-out but my reaction wasn't to put my legal skills at the service of those same poor people, working in some community law centre with wet rot in the walls and warm compassion in the coffee cups. Instead I looked after myself: I went for prestige cases with prestige fees attached and sneered at the system on the quiet as if that put me above it. I built myself a name as well as a fancy house.

Maybe membership of the country-club set was what did it for me in the end-all those fine, upstanding citizens with the gall to assume I shared their smug, bigoted ideas about crime and punishment, their enthusiasm for cleaning up the streets with a flamethrower. They'd rant on about the pushers and the pimps, the communists and the common riff-raff who were getting away with murder. And in the next breath they'd tell you about their latest scam for tax evasion without even the decency to wonder whether broadcasting it to a lawyer might not be a very smart move. The criminals we most need to catch don't even get called criminals.

There had to be something better. I used my connections and got myself a legal job inside the UN. I wish I could say that cured me of my cynicism. …

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