PLOUGHSHARES WOMEN FREED
- PLOUGHSHARES WOMEN FREED
In a historic verdict, after a brilliantly-argued seven-day trial
where their case was grounded upon international law, the
four `ploughshares' women Andrea Needham, Lotta Kronlid, Joanna
Wilson and Angela Zelter were cleared of charges of having caused two
million pounds worth of damage to a British Aerospace Hawk jet
(Report in Daily Telegraph, August 1, as well as front page of the
Guardian). The media generally obfuscated the issue as `conscience
before the law', however to quote KM: `the Seeds of Hope women were
quite clear... that they weren't "breaking the law for a higher end"
but rather fulfilling their legal duty/availing themselves of their
legal right to stop crime. It is precisely because they were so clear
on this... framing their action in legal as well as moral terms, that
the women were allowed to present the jury with evidence of the real
crime taking place'. He added that `section 3 of the Criminal Law Act
belongs to us all: "A person may use such force as is reasonable in
the circumstances in the prevention of crime..."'
The Ploughshares women argued that International law was binding on
all states and was valid in Liverpool Crown Court; that Indonesia is
a systematic and persistent violator of international law and uses
BAe Hawks to carry out these violations, including: violations of
East Timor's right of self-determination, the illegal occupation of
East Timor, violations of the Nuremburg Principles including crimes
against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; human rights
violations and the use of torture; and violations of the Hague
conventions and the 4th Geneva Convention. It was further argued that
the British government and British companies are complicit in these
crimes in that they knowingly `sell Hawk aircraft and other weapons
and torture equipment' (A.Z.) and hence are in breach of
international laws themselves. A.Z. used to much effect the Zyklon B
case where two German industrialists were found guilty of war crimes
during the Nuremburg tribunal, having provided gas to exterminate
people in the concentration camps.
The women argued at Liverpool that it was every citizen's right and
duty to try to uphold international laws and prevent war crimes, and
that the Ploughshares act of disarmament did in fact prevent one
plane from being used to commit war crimes. The Tokyo War Crimes
Tribunal was referred to as having stated that `anyone with knowledge
of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it, is a
potential criminal under international law unless the person takes
measures to prevent the commission of crimes.' The women's defence
centred around the failure of the British democratic political and
judicial system to uphold international law: `We, as global citizens,
took responsibilty for this failure.... We disabled a Hawk jet and
reclaimed international law for ordinary children, women and men, for
global citizens rather than global corporations.'
The following letter signed by the four women appeared in the Daily
Express (6 August): `In his piece, Martyrs who Forego the Pain of
Martyrdom, Peter Hitchens says that, in our action of disarming the
Hawk warplane destined for Indonesia, we have `seriously damaged the
law.' In fact, we presented a legal defence - that of using
reasonable force to prevent crime. The judge allowed this defence to
be put to the jury and the jury, having studied the evidence,
accepted it. We were acquitted. The jury found that the action we
took to prevent the Hawk killing people in East Timor was justified
The law is being broken, but not by us. The law against genocide is
being broken by British Aerospace in selling Hawks to Indonesia's
brutal dictatorship. We have been held accountable by the courts for
our actions, but British Aerospace and the British Government are
flouting the law with impunity. We took full responsibility for our
actions, but British aerospace and the Government are ignoring their
responsibilities by selling weapons which they know will be used to
kill civilians in an illegally occupied country.
Along with thousands of other people, we had tried every conceivable
means to stop this illegal deal. The campaign was ignored and the
planes were about to leave for Indonesia when we took our action.
Would it have been more responsible passively to have watched the
planes leave for bombing raids in East Timor?
We have been called vandals and it has been suggested that this
verdict gives a green light to random destruction of property.
Vandalism is purposeless property destruction. This is certainly not
something we would advocate. Our action was a creative and peaceful
response to a serious crime. It was carried out because of compassion
and with the sole purpose of saving lives.'
As regards why the many attempts to stop the Hawk sales have failed
to-date, in A.Z.'s experience persons had difficulty in
distinguishing between what was legal and what was official: `The
fact that an export license has been issued by the Department of
Trade and Industry, even though the UN, EU and British regulations on
arms controls have been breached, has led to an assumption of
In October the women intend to lay informations against BAe, to try
and prevent the remaining Hawks from being exported, and want as many
co-informants as possible, preferably several thousand. Eminent
persons are needed for this, can you help?. There is no cost or legal
risk: to be a co-informant one signs a document that specifies the
alleged offense and sets out information on the crimes concerning
which the court is being asked to start proceedings. Please apply if
interested, with any checques & donations to `Seeds of Hope Private
Prosecution', Angie Zelter, c/o 48 Bethel Street, Norwich, Norfolk
Documents are available from Amnesty International on Indonesia &
East Timor, eg `Twenty years of violations', Amnesty's 1995 statement
to the UN.
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