The Rock’n’roll of International Law: Blackbreaks explain all

int_lawSo you see folks, friends and fans often ask Blackbreaks to explain all about this “international law” business.

I know – fairly good question right? I mean what is this stuff like the Human rights laws and Refugee conventions and shit, the rules of warfare, and the Geneva Convention(s) and why can governments just cherry pick when to obey international law, and sometimes just ignore it?

Like the Australian Government on refugees – shouldn’t Australia have to follow international law on that stuff? Or something?

Well – top question folks. That’s why you need a rock band to explain all.

See, the first thing to understand about international law, is that it really doesn’t mean anything until it is “codifed” into national law. “Codified” basically means the national government take the intention of the international law that they have said they agree too, then copy that and pass an national law that amounts to the same thing.

Prior to this step of “codification” – countries usually just “ratify” the international law. Ratify has nothing what-so-ever to do with rats. It basically just means “signing up” to the convention, or what ever similar name that international agreement is called.

Professor_LocAZu_LectureNotes1A topical example is known as the Refugee Convention – its full title is actually the “Convention relating to the Status of Refugees”  Another example is the Human Rights rules which are called the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Inside that declaration lives a bunch things called covenants and protocols and stuff. The Geneva Convention(s) (there are actually four of them) are another one many people know, about the rules of war.

The problem really is there is actually no institution powerful enough or with enough time and cash to do anything about a country if it decides to break these laws.

Many people think – what about the United Nations (UN)? What about the International Criminal Court? Well, unfortunately the UN may be good in theory, but really, it wasn’t created to have the “teeth” (as in grrrr like a tiger) to do much about rule breakers, unless the four winners of world war two – USA, Russia, China, UK (and for some freakin’ stupid reason France, who weren’t even hardly a country when the UN formed) agree to stuff – cos they have something called “veto” power which means stupid things so don’t get us started on this tangent, ok?

Where were we? Oh yeah The International Criminal Court.. so this court was created by another type of international agreement called a treaty – and the court can only very specifically go after the most serious war crimes and stuff. But get this, some countries just didn’t sign up for it, such as *ahem* the USA – which is why they couldn’t be hassled over the crazy legal status of their off-shore Guantanamo Bay jail, and all that torture stuff there and in Iraq, and the CIA renditions and a few other um many many things.

high_courtBut in Australia, things get a little weird – cos we have our High court, ok? ..and also what is called ‘precedents’. These are basically the rulings of that court in previous cases. And these previous rulings are quite a lot like laws that Australia make, in that they matter, man. And so stop me if this gets a little complex, but the High Court in Australia is set up by the Australian Constitution – right? And a big thing the court does is test whether governments (be they state, territorian or national) have made laws that are within the boundaries of our constitution.. ok you still with me? Cos we have all the ingredients – and  now I will bake your cake..

So what happened in Australia back in 1983 was a super important High Court case known as the ‘Tasmanian Dam case” – some of you may remember it – it was when Bob Brown apparently first popped up onto all our TVs..

So what happened right, was there is this bit in the Constitution called “section 51 xxix” and this bit gives the national government the power to make laws relating to “external affairs”. This is a kinda fancy term that includes international law.

So the Australian Prime Minister in the early 80’s – Bob Hawke (a world record holder for skoaling beer – true story) passed a national law called the “World Heritage Act” that ‘codifies’ international law based on a treaty called the the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage – But the Tasmanian government of the day says – stuff you national government – we wanna build a stupid dam for our power over really really beautiful precious Tasmanian rain forest and shit, and don’t care about your laws.

Well the High court judges ruled by creating a big precedent – they said the national law was legit – and this means if we codify something in Australia we need to stick to it. Cool right? Except that but even then, the National government can just not codify a convention in the first place, or pass new laws that un-codify international law any old time, like when the high court rules against liberal MP Scott Morrison cos he’s being a bastard to poor suffering refugees. And the issue here is laws always trump precedent.

So what this all boils down to is this:

  1. International laws are really just kinda “guidelines”, not actual “laws” as we know them..
  2. there is also really no international cop, except the USA who sometimes thinks it is when there is oil around.
  3. the Australian Government are a pack of
  4. and, sure there is a lot more to this, fear of international reputation, fear of voter backlash, more precedents, more crazy named international agreements and stuff, but Blackbreaks have other things to get to, like finishing mixing some new music, so it’s back to the studio for us.. over and out
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