The movement against South African apartheid was perhaps the most universal and popular movement in the western world in the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands protested in a multitude of ways—from letter-writing campaigns to shantytown occupations of city squares and college campus greens. Institutions of all types, from churches to universities, from corporations and banks to city halls, were forced to remove their investments from companies doing business with the racist South African regime, ultimately forcing that regime to end its racist legal system. Even the right wing Reagan and Thatcher regimes were ultimately forced to end their support for Pretoria’s racist system and grudgingly go along with the popular will.
However, as Ron Nixon’s new book, titled Selling Apartheid, makes clear, the South African regime was not going to go down without a fight. In addition to police and military actions of varying brutality, the regime hired advertising men to sell their brand of repression to people and governments around the world. The campaign he describes involved a cynical manipulation of emotions about race, implied white supremacist chauvinism, and outright lies. Advertising campaigns presented South Africa as a tourist destination full of beauty and the perfect climate (which it had) with absolutely no mention of the racial discrimination built into its social and political systems. Glossy photo spreads were bought in newspaper and magazines and television programs were made and sold to television networks in the United States and Britain. These shows were then shown to the unsuspecting viewer as if they were made by agencies independent of the apartheid government and their only agenda was tourism.
In a particularly cynical move, the South African government was able to buy off a few African-Americans over the years in what was ultimately a vain attempt to convince Black Americans that apartheid was okay. The first of these individuals was a former supporter of the Black resistance movement in South Africa, Max Yergan. In what can only be described as a complete sell out, Yergan went from working with early members of what would become the primary resistance organization against apartheid—the African National Congress(ANC)—to giving speeches in the United States and Africa aimed at convincing his audiences that apartheid helped Blacks. Once a committed left-winger, Yergan came under pressure during the McCarthy era in the United States, became an informer for the FBI, and turned against his friends in South Africa; friends that included freedom fighters Nelson Mandela and Joseph Tambo. Yergan was but the first of a few such individuals who would follow in his treacherous footsteps.
The bottom line for the white South African regime and the United States was money. Several US companies had millions invested in South African industry. These companies took advantage of the cheap labor (and maximized profits resulting from that labor) and minimal regulations offered by the Pretoria regime. In turn, they either supported or at the least, tacitly accepted the racism and brutality that defined the apartheid system. Consequently, it was these corporations and financial institutions that were targeted by the anti-apartheid movement’s divestment campaign. Churches, universities, and other institutions that had investments in such companies were ultimately convinced to drop those investments. Sometimes that convincing was purely of a moral plea, other times it required a concerted effort that combined direct action, monetary boycotts, and legislative pressure.
As an advocate of the current campaign against Israeli apartheid, it was more than interesting to compare the similarities in the campaign waged against the movement against South Africa’s apartheid and that currently waged against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of today. Residents of western nations are constantly barraged with imagery that attempts to portray the Tel Aviv government as a beacon of fairness and democracy in the Middle East. Furthermore, one is constantly told that the Palestinians who resist the occupation of their lands and the ever-present system of discrimination are nothing but terrorists. This latter phenomenon was also the case in South Africa. Indeed, the ANC was not removed from the US list of “terrorist” organizations until 2008, more than fifteen years after apartheid met its well-deserved end. Of course, there are specific differences between the two systems of separation referred to here, but the essential fact apartheid is true for the historic South African regime and the current Israeli one.
Ron Nixon’s text is an essential addition to the volume of work on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Rich in detail, it provides the reader with an extended look at the nature of propaganda in modern society. A one-time journalist for the New York Times, Nixon makes his argument with facts and writing that is both accessible and engaging. In doing so, he exposes the moral vacuousness of those who propagandized for the racists of South Africa not because they necessarily believed in apartheid, but because they made money from doing so. Furthermore, in his telling Nixon doesn’t just rake the white South African regime over the coals, he also points his pen at the equally deserving US and British governments, especially those of Reagan and Thatcher. In terms of how the world seems to work, Selling Apartheid is a tawdry yet familiar tale.
To date, the ICC has investigated about 39 cases and 38 of them are on the African continent.
The International Criminal Court was initially viewed as the world’s haven from atrocities and a tribunal that would protect the rights of those whose freedoms had been taken away and whose voices had been silenced. The court was established by the 1998 Rome Statute with 139 signatories and 123 ratifications.
Fast forward about 14 years from the year the statute entered into effect in 2016, when three ratifying countries—South Africa, Burundi and Gambia—have announced their withdrawal from the entity. Although the decisions have proven to be controversial both within and outside of nations’ borders, the question is why?
One of the biggest criticisms facing the international body is that it is biased against African states. The African Union has long pointed this out and in 2013 it called for immunity for sitting leaders indicted by the court. It was denied in 2015 in the pursuit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir along with the subsequent prosecution against the South African government for failure to detain him.
To see why these accusations persist is to understand the context: to date, the ICC has investigated about 39 cases and 38 of them are on the African continent. This fact undoubtedly places the court’s supposed impartiality under scrutiny when it appears to cast a blind eye on the doings of Western leaders. The court’s legitimacy is further questioned by the fact that super powers such as the U.S., China and Russia have yet to be subjected to its authority.
The legal body shrugged off the claims by reiterating that the ICC is comprised of some African officials and therefore cannot be biased against the continent. The ICC flaunted its double-standards when it announced that it would not investigate former British prime minister Tony Blair for sending U.K. troops into Iraq under false pretenses. However, British soldiers may still face prosecution.
According to an article published by Forbes in 2014, the ICC had only convicted two out of all the people it had indicted with an expenditure of about US$1 billion. Earlier in 2016, the court pursued its third prosecution against former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo who was sentenced to 18 years for rape and pillage committed by his troops in the Central African Republic.
The irony of this conviction lies in the countless incidents of child abuse committed by European troops deployed in peace-keeping missions in that very nation. The U.N. rid itself of responsibility, stating that the onus is on each country to prosecute its own troops.
So another criticism of the legal body is that it has so far been ineffective and expensive, that in all of its 14 years, only perpetrators from two parts of the whole world have been indicted while everyday there are crimes ravaging humanity in all corners of the globe, many at the hands of the same members of the institutions who dominate the world.
It is not to say that such crimes should not be addressed, however if humanitarianism is going to continue to be used as a cloak that serves both as a hero’s cape during the day and a blanket to cover the truth at night, then the court’s mandate is skewed. Justice should not only be a privilege for the 1 percent.
South Africa has joined Burundi in officially announcing its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying its laws are incompatible with obligations under the ICC.
The South African government gave a formal notice of its intention to pull out of the ICC on Friday.
South Africa “found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court,” the document, signed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, read.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Michael Masutha told a media conference in the administrative capital, Pretoria, that the ICC’s obligations are inconsistent with laws giving sitting leaders diplomatic immunity.
“The Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, 2002, is in conflict and inconsistent with the provisions of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001,” Masutha said.
South Africa says a bill over the matter, i.e. the withdrawal from ICC, will soon go to the country’s parliament.
The decision comes amid a dispute over last year’s visit by Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to attend an African Union summit in Johannesburg. Bashir is wanted by the ICC over alleged war crimes. South Africa, however, said he had immunity as the head of a member state.
Nevertheless, the ICC criticized the South African government for its failure to arrest Bashir.
The announcement of the decision by South Africa to withdraw from the ICC sparked rapid criticism from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
South Africa’s proposed withdrawal “shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes,” HRW said in a statement. “It’s important both for South Africa and the region that this runaway train be slowed down and South Africa’s hard-won legacy of standing with victims of mass atrocities be restored.”
South Africa is the second African country to declare its withdrawal from the ICC. Earlier this week, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree to quit the court’s jurisdiction.
Namibia and Kenya have also raised the possibility of withdrawal from the ICC.
Some African governments say the ICC has shown a post-colonial bias against the continent’s leaders.
The sensational headlines following the arrests of Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, as well as Ebrahim and Fatima Patel, in Johannesburg and the West Rand, have dominated the South African media over the past few weeks. The #TerrorArrests, as they have been dubbed on social media, came a month after the US embassy issued its umpteenth terror alert warning of imminent Daesh attacks in the country. Even though there are still questions around the legality of the Thulsie arrests, the word “terror” has been used freely. The South African Jewish Report claims that it dubbed the Thulsies the “Terror Twins” and the “name has stuck like glue in all media reports on the case,” gloated journalist Ant Katz.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the court of public opinion has already found the accused – all of whom are Muslims – guilty of being Daesh recruits. They were, it is claimed widely, planning attacks on American sites and Jewish cultural institutions.
There has been much speculation about Daesh recruitment in South Africa — indeed, around the world — but I would argue that the extremist group has no need to make any real effort to recruit anyone; the West does a good enough job in that respect. It is the West’s support for tyrannical Arab and Israeli regimes that draws people to extremism. Daesh’s use of terminology such as “Caliphate” and “jihad”, and its Hollywood-style video clips purportedly confronting the imperial invaders, also attract marginal support from the naive.
In 2003, the South African government introduced US-inspired anti-terrorism legislation, despite warnings from civil society on the impact that this would have on the Muslim community. Since then, there has been a slew of clandestine arrests and detentions of South African Muslims, in collaboration with foreign intelligence agencies like the FBI.
Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute reports that the FBI treats Muslims like “terrorists-in-waiting”, encouraging, pressurising and sometimes paying them to commit crimes that they would not ordinarily have committed. Informants trawl through Muslim communities, mosques and community centres, monitor and engage social media, and talk of radical Islam in order to identify possible targets sympathetic to such ideas. If suitable suspects are identified, FBI agents then run a sting, often creating a fake terror plot in which it helps supply weapons and targets. Then, dramatic arrests are made, press conferences held, terror “experts” paraded and lengthy convictions secured.
Are the authorities in South Africa headed in the same direction? It seems that we might well be seeing such a scenario. The investigating officer for the Thulsie case, Wynand Olivier, admitted in court that foreign intelligence agents prompted the Hawks — SA’s elite anti-terror police squad — to arrest the Thulsie and Patel siblings. So desperate were the authorities to effect an arrest that even paintball guns have been presented as “evidence” of an arms cache. More disturbing still is Olivier’s understanding of the word “jihad”, a term that has become central to the case against the Thulsies. The legal official has admitted that no Islamic or Arabic language experts were consulted to guide the authorities on the use of the word.
The word “jihad” is actually used widely by all Muslims, and refers to both individual and social struggles. In fact, if the Hawks were to monitor the use of “jihad” thoroughly, then every South African Muslim would qualify as a “terror” suspect. That is a day we must ensure never comes. The Muslim community is woven firmly within the fabric of South African society, a fact recognised by the government.
However, if we are to retain this social harmony, then the authorities must revisit the anti-terror laws we were coerced into adopting. Furthermore, an independent, enlightened and prudent foreign policy must be followed; it would be the best way to protect us all by ensuring that we do not give Daesh the metaphoric ammunition to entice gullible people to join the movement. Such a policy will be infinitely more effective at countering extremist ideology than a witch-hunt based on myths, stereotypes and misinformation.
Saudi Arabia announced that it is building a drone plant in cooperation with South Africa, but a well-known Saudi defense analyst claimed this is a guise to hide the clandestine purchases of aircraft from Israel.
The analyst, who calls himself “Mujtahid” has been leaking exclusive information about the royal family of Saudi Arabia on Twitter since the early 2000s. He challenged the official report released by the Saudi Defense Ministry this week, which stated the kingdom would build a drone factory in collaboration with South Africa.
“The report aims to hide the fact that Saudi Arabia intends to purchase drones from Israel via South Africa,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia buys Israeli drones through South Africa. These drones later arrive from South Africa, dismantled, to Saudi Arabia, where they are assembled,” Mujtahid added, describing the mechanism developed to carry out the Israeli-Saudi deal.
He went on to accuse Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is Saudi Defense Minister and, according to some experts, the country’s second most powerful person, of serving Israel’s interest by purchasing drones from the Jewish state.
Saudi Arabia has been trying for years to strengthen its armed forces with drone capabilities. In 2010, General Atomics, the US producer of the Predator drone family, announced it had acquired export licenses for a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. Export to Saudi Arabia has so far failed to materialize, even though a similar deal with the United Arab Emirates was approved by the US Congress in 2015.
As supplies from its primary arms supplier were hanging in limbo, Riyadh was reportedly looking for alternative sellers of the technology. In 2013, reports said Saudi Arabia would be buying reconnaissance drones from the South African arms manufacturer Denel Dynamics. Last year, some reports said both the Saudis and the Emirates had managed to buy ground attack drones from China for their stalling Yemeni campaign.
Israel is one of the world’s leading producers of drones, but selling the technology to Saudi Arabia would be politically disastrous, as public opinion in both Israel and the Arab nation would be strongly against such a deal.
The two countries were said to have some military cooperation in their mutual rivalry with regional competitor Iran. Some reports suggested Israel and Saudi Arabia had discussed the possibility of an Israeli attack through Saudi airspace against Iranian nuclear sites amid the tense negotiation for a nuclear deal between Tehran and six leading world powers.
At the UN General assembly last fall there was an essential vote on the future of mankind. Resolution number A/RES/70/33 calling for the international society to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations had been submitted by Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Ireland, Kenya, Lichtenstein, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. For that, these countries deserve our deep respect and gratitude. The resolution reminds us that all the peoples of the world have a vital interest in the success of nuclear disarmament negotiations, that all states have the right to participate in disarmament negotiations, and, at the same time, declares support for the UN Secretary – General’s five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament.
The resolution reiterates the universal objective that remains the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons, and emphasizes the importance of addressing issues related to nuclear weapons in a comprehensive, inclusive, interactive and constructive manner, for the advancement of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. The resolution calls on the UN to establish an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) of willing and responsible states to bring the negotiations on nuclear disarmament forward in this spirit.
When voted upon at the UNGA a month ago, on December 7, 2015, there was a huge majority of states (75 %) that supported the resolution, namely 138 of the 184 member states that were present. Most of them are from the global south, with majorities in Latin-America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific. After having shown such courage and wisdom, they all deserve to be named among the states of hope, states that want to sustain mankind on earth.
Only 12 states voted against the resolution. Guess who they are: China, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and the United States. What is wrong with them? Well, they are either nuclear-armed states or among the new NATO member states. They are the states of concern in today’s world. It is hypocritical that states that claim to be the protectors of freedom, democracy, and humanity constitute a small minority that refuse to enter into multilateral, inclusive, interactive and constructive negotiations to free the world from nuclear weapons. Among the three other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan had the civility to abstain, while the DPRK was the only one to vote “yes.”
Despite the reactionary, dangerous, and irresponsible position of the 12 states of concern and the tepid attitude of the abstainers, the OEWG was established by an overwhelming majority of the UNGA. The OEWG will convene in Geneva for 15 working days during the first half of 2016. The OEWG has no mandate to negotiate treaties to free the world of the inhuman nuclear weapons, but has clearly been asked to discuss and show how it can be achieved. Surely, the nations of hope that voted in favor of the OEWG will take part in the work. We can hope that at least some of the states of concern and some of the abstainers come to their senses and take part in this essential work for the future of mankind.
Participation in the OEWG is open for everyone and blockable by none. No matter what the states of concern do or don’t do, there is good reason to trust that the vast majority of nations of hope together with civil society from all over in the fall will present an outcome to the UNGA that will turn our common dream of a world free of nuclear weapons into a reality—perhaps sooner that we dare to believe.
South Africa issued, on Tuesday, an arrest warrant against four Israeli officials over their role in deadly attacks on pro-Palestinian international activists.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against the Israeli occupation in Africa said, in a statement: “South Africa’s Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit has issued warrants of arrest against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and Israeli Defense Forces.”
According to Days of Palestine, the statement announced arrest warrants issued against former Israeli chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy commander Major General Eliezer Marom, former head of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin and former head of Air Force intelligence Brigadier General Avishay Levy.
“This decision,” African BDS said, “follows a four-year-long case involving a South African journalist, Gadija Davids, who was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israeli commandoes while in international waters in 2010.
“Davids laid her first complaint with the South African Police Services and South Africa’s National Prosecutions Authority in January 2011.
“In November 2012, South Africa’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, found that the case met the necessary jurisdictional requirements and that reasonable grounds exist to investigate the alleged crimes that were committed during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara.”
Arrest in Spain
Just days ago, a Spanish judge reopened a case that, theoretically, could lead to the arrest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, MK Benny Begin and several former top Israeli officials over their role in the same incident.
Three Spanish citizens aboard Mavi Marmara had originally filed a lawsuit against the Israeli occupation in 2010, but the court decided it no longer had the authority to prosecute foreign nationals for alleged crimes committed outside of Spain.
In recent days, Judge Jose de la Mata found a legal loophole that allowed him to relaunch the case against Netanyahu and the other Israelis if they entered Spanish territory.
A ruling ANC policy meeting has given its nod for South African plans to withdraw its membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This ‘landmark’ decision is bound to spur greater debate on the ICC and its ‘inherent biases’.
Let’s rewind a bit here.
At its national conference in 2012, South Africa’s governing party the African National Congress (ANC) resolved to engage with the International Criminal Court to seek amongst other matters the perceptions that the court treated African nations unfairly on matters of global justice.
The court was seen as only focused on Africa and no other continent. In the court’s 13-year history it has only brought charges against Africans.
In its resolution then, the ANC said; “As much as the ANC does not condone impunity, authoritarian and violent regimes, it is concerned about the perception of selective prosecution of Africans and urges the ICC to also pursue cases of impunity elsewhere, while engaging in serious dialogue with the AU and African countries in order to review their relationship.”
The ANC referenced cases of Ivory Coast and Sudan where the AU was engaged in peace building and ending of hostilities, during which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) through the ICC engaged in interventions that could have scuppered the AU initiatives to put an end to hostilities.
In its 2012 resolution, the ANC called on the UN Security Council, which has referred some African cases to the ICC, to recognise the work done by the African Union, its Regional Economic Commissions and individual African countries to promote a peaceful end to and settlement of conflicts on the continent, the peace agreements signed and commitments made in regard to post-conflict justice.
It is worthwhile to remember here that none of the South African government’s proposals to make the court more representative and responsive to the continents multilateral African Union (AU) were ever adopted.
On Monday during its National General Council (NGC), ANC’s midterm policy review Congress noted the processes underway, under the auspices of the African Union, (including South Africa) to review Africa’s participation in the International Criminal Court.
The NGC has now moved further away from the 2012 resolution with its instructions to the South African government to start the process of withdrawing from the ICC.
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute that set up the court.
The South African government of Jacob Zuma had been severely criticized for letting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir evade an ICC arrest warrant in the country in June this year.
Zuma had hosted AU Heads of States and Governments in Johannesburg with al-Bashir in attendance.
During this time, the South African government was already arguing a matter in a court on the question of immunity for heads of states while leading their countries to multilateral meetings of the AU.
A South African court had ordered the government to ‘detain’ al-Bashir in the country whilst it deliberated on whether South Africa was obliged to arrest him.
In an earlier op-ed here, I argued that the government acted properly in not arresting the Sudanese leader.
The decision of South Africa’s ANC this past weekend should be seen as a part of Africa’s renewal and her demands to be heard and treated as an equal in global politics.
As Africa finds its voice and refuses to be colonized in commerce, justice and global politics, the next frontier will be her push for meaningful UNSC reforms to include her one billion population.
South Africa is seen as a front-runner for a permanent seat on the UNSC. The issue of UNSC reforms is inextricably linked to the ICC fallout as the UNSC controls much of ICC’s activities even though the majority of permanent members are not ICC state parties.
A month ago Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed the Sudanese president in China as an “old friend”. Beijing, like Washington, is not a member of the ICC, although both are permanent UNSC members.
Instead, the ICC has been seen by many as a proxy tool of the US to further its narrow global hegemonic political interests and to even effect its policy on regime changes through the ICC itself. This has made this court unequal and inequitable in every sense.
The African Court for Human Rights is, conversely, widely regarded by the majority of African states as the better model to deal with cases of human rights abuse.
The ANC has demanded that all African cases currently before the ICC be transferred to this court.
This could see a likely release for former president of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo still held at The Hague. Most countries, especially in Africa, viewed France’s actions in his arrest unfair and unlawful.
South Africa has not only consistently shown the ability to negotiate and kick-the-can but has also been able to come up with global alternatives as seen in the formation of the BRICS bank as a counterweight to the unreformed International Monetary Fund.
South Africa’s BRICS partners India, China and Russia are not state parties to the ICC.
At the center of the South African move at ICC, is the demand for a representative global order and the ruling ANC is showing impatience with the dragging negotiations to achieve equitable balance amongst United Nations member states.
We should expect an enmasse ICC withdrawal of African states after this ANC decision. The age of African solutions for African problems has started. The notion of “nothing about us without us” is no longer reversible.
“It was not a battle because they were not aggressive,
nor were they defensive because they had no weapons
of any kind and were simply shot down like so many
worthless objects, each of the licensed life-takers
trying to outdo the others in the butchery.”
– Inscription on monument erected in Lattimer, Pa.
If officials wanted to shine a light on the horrors of the past, every day could be the anniversary of some type of atrocity committed by a government agency or corporation. But leaders get to pick and choose which events are more important than others. American officials, just like leaders in all countries, want the nation memorializing incidents that serve their political and economic interests.
Sept. 10 is one of those days when government officials committed a major atrocity. But 9/10 never became a national day of remembrance.
Sept. 10, 2015, marked the 118th anniversary of the Lattimer Massacre in the anthracite coal mine region of eastern Pennsylvania. Like the 9/11 attacks, the mass murder in Pennsylvania was used as a springboard for something bigger. But in the case of the Lattimer Massacre, the murder of striking coal miners served as inspiration to build a more equitable society, not as an excuse to kill and harm more people.
All told, Luzerne County, Pa., sheriff deputies killed 19 unarmed miners and wounded at least 38. No sheriff deputies were killed. “The primary result of the massacre was rapid growth in unionism in the anthracite coal region. During the next four months approximately 15,000 new names were added to the UMWA rolls,” the United Mine Workers of America explains on its website.
The UMWA views the Lattimer Massacre as a major event in U.S. history. Even the commonwealth of Pennsylvania saw the actions by the local police on Sept. 10, 1897, as extreme and excessive. State prosecutors brought murder and felonious shooting charges against Luzerne County Sheriff James Martin and 78 of his deputies in the wake of their attack on the workers.
In the late 19th century, pro-labor sentiment was strong in the U.S. and, at least in this case, state prosecutors wanted the sheriff and his deputies held accountable. But as it turned out, the prosecutors were ill-prepared for the trial and ultimately argued a lackluster case against the defendants, all of whom were found not guilty of the charges after a five-week trial in 1898.
Labor activism, especially in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, had been growing steadily since the mid-1800s. The Molly Maguires, a shadowy Irish labor organization, waged a violent battle against coal operators. In the late 1870s, 20 Mollies were hanged after being found guilty of murder and other charges.
In the wake of the crackdown on the Molly Maguires, labor activism in the region waned. But union activity in the anthracite coal fields picked up again as the century neared an end. Only two decades removed from the violent battles between the coal operators and the Mollies, state officials could have easily overlooked the Lattimer killings.
To their credit, Pennsylvania state prosecutors in 1897 tried to hold the police accountable in Luzerne County. The massacre occurred in the village of Lattimer, north the city of Hazleton, Pa., when Martin’s posse of deputies fired at between 300 and 400 coal miners, mostly of Slovak, Polish Lithuanian and German ethnicity, who were marching from Harwood, Pa., to Lattimer.
The miners wanted a pay raise of 15 cents per employee, the ability to select their own doctor, the right to get paid for work even if the machines they work were out of order, and the freedom not to have to buy from the company store. Workers had already shut down several other mines in the region. Expanding the strike to Lattimer would be a huge victory for the miners because it would go a long way to shutting down the entire the area and forcing the companies to grant workers’ demands.
Fearing their private guards could not pacify the striking workers, the coal mine owners solicited the help of Sheriff Martin, who responded by rounding up dozens of local men to serve as deputies. They met the hundreds of striking miners marchers in Lattimer, one of whom was holding an American flag. After the sheriff tried to tear the flag and grabbed one of the marchers, the deputies opened fire. The flag bearer was the first man hit. The striking miners began to disperse, running to get away from the shooters. Some deputies moved to different locations so they could take better aim at fleeing marchers, shooting them in the back as they ran.
The massacre at Lattimer was the largest in U.S. labor history until the Ludlow massacre in Colorado 17 years later when Colorado National Guard and mine guards attacked a camp of striking workers, killing two dozen people, including miners and their wives and children.
Michael Novak, a long-time scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in 1978 published one of first major books on the massacre. “The story of the guns of Lattimer has been strangely neglected in history books, even in histories of violence in America, even in labor histories,” Novak wrote in The Guns of Lattimer, “The reasons may be that Lattimer’s victims did not speak English and, more than others, have lacked a public voice.”
Novak’s book was sympathetic to the miners. “The whole body of four hundred marching men, unarmed, incompetent in English, carefully carrying two American flags, and painfully aware that in the Austro-Hungarian Empire they could conduct no such open and peaceful protest as they did here,” Novak wrote. “That their march should have ended in brutal bloodshed — the worst labor massacre in the history of Pennsylvania and in the nation until that time — deepened in them and in other Slavic communities around the nation a familiar sense of tragedy and injustice.”
Several other books and scholarly articles have covered the massacre. The latest book, The Lattimer Massacre Trial, published by Dorrance Publishing Co., provides a unique look at the event. The book was compiled by Pasco L. Schiavo, a prominent lawyer in the city of Hazleton and the person who now owns the land on which the massacre occurred.
Born and raised in Hazleton and a descendent of Italian immigrant coal miners, Schivao compiled day-to-day newspaper reports from the 1898 Lattimer trial of the sheriff and 72 deputies, a chronological collection that includes pre-trial jury selection, witnesses’ testimony and the final verdict. Schivao’s book contains clippings from The Press, what he calls a “reputable Philadelphia, Pennsylvania newspaper which is no longer in existence.”
The newspaper articles covered the trial in detail and included verbatim some of the statements made by the witnesses testifying at the trial, “something which is particularly important in light of the court transcripts or records of testimony having been lost years ago,” Schivao writes in the book’s introduction.
In his closing argument, the prosecuting attorney emphasized that “the strikers were peaceable and unarmed.” Only a handful of the slain strikers were shot from the front; the rest of them were shot in the back. Referring to the deputies, the district attorney stated “if these boys had protected the lives of these poor creatures of God with the same solicitude they displayed in protecting the property of the employers there would be no case here today.”
Even though none of the deputies was killed, witnesses for the defense claimed the strikers were armed with pistols and clubs. In a post-mortem published in The Times of Philadelphia, the newspaper’s writers argued that the assembly of strikers “was utterly lawless, and when the members refused to disperse upon notice from the Sheriff, given in the presence of his armed deputies, they not only openly defied the law, but they precipitated the destruction of life by violently resisting the Sheriff when in the performance of his lawful duty.”
Schiavo told a Hazleton newspaper that he chose to compile the book because the newspaper articles “report as close to the truth as possibly on a daily basis.” On the other hand, “the books and other publications I have read tend to give a slant one or another as to what really happened at Lattimer,” he was quoted as saying in the Aug. 2 article.
Even today, debate continues on whether the deputies were justified in killing the workers. Dan Sivilich, president of the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteers Organization, told a local newspaper that the “the sheriff was not stupid.”
“As soon as those miners entered the gate, and they entered mine property, someone opened fire on them. At that point, they were trespassing, and deadly force is allowed when someone is trespassing on your property,” Sivilich said.
Lethal police force is still being used on a regular basis against U.S. residents who are viewed as expendable. Few of the perpetrators are facing prosecution. The same is true in other countries. A similar massacre occurred in South Africa in August 2012 when police opened fire on striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, killing 34 miners and wounding an additional 78. The police violence, known as the Marikana Massacre, was the single most lethal use of force by South African police against civilians since the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 when the nation’s official policy of apartheid was in full force.
Instead of bringing criminal charges against the police, South African authorities charged the surviving miners with murder. The authorities used the doctrine of common purpose against the survivors, assigning responsibility upon them for the murders because they participated in the strike. The murder charges, however, were later dropped and all 270 miners were released.
At least Pennsylvania authorities did not stoop so low to bring murder charges against the surviving miners in Lattimer. In remembrance of the slain miners, a small memorial now stands at a highway intersection in Lattimer. The memorial includes a monument with an inscription and the names of the killed miners. A shovel and a pick-axe lean against the front of the monument, and a small rail wagon with a pile of anthracite coal sits behind it.
“The migrant workers that struck during the summer of 1897 imagined a better world for themselves, one that offered them the baseline of equal living and working conditions to the longer-established nativized miners,” the Lattimer Massacre Project website says.
Mark Hand can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.
A high court in South Africa issued an interim order Sunday preventing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from leaving the country.
Al-Bashir is currently in South Africa attending the 25th African Union Summit that is underway in Johannesburg.
The South African court will decide later on Sunday whether or not to hand the Sudanese leader over to the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir in 2009.
He is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Pretoria High Court Judge Hans Fabricus issued the order on Sunday after the Southern Africa Litigation Centre submitted an application calling for the Sudanese leader’s arrest.
Amnesty International also appealed to South Africa to arrest al-Bashir.
“Al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice. If the government of President Zuma fails to arrest him, it would have done nothing, save to give succor to a leader who is accused of being complicit in the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in a conflict,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa, late Friday.
“As soon as he lands in South Africa, the authorities must arrest al-Bashir and ensure that he is transferred to the International Criminal Court,” Belay said in a press release to Anadolu Agency.
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute that formally established the International Criminal Court, which means they can arrest anyone accused of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or crimes of aggression.
However, experts believe it will be difficult for South Africa to effect al-Bashir’s arrest when he sets foot on their territory because he is a guest of the African Union and not the government of South Africa.
“It would be unfortunate if South Africa arrested any African head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court because they accepted to host all leaders,” international relations expert Tom Wheeler told Anadolu Agency in an earlier interview.
South African government officials have thus far refused to comment and instead requested that questions be directed to the continental body.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Thursday cancelled a trip to South Africa to attend the African Union Summit after a group of lawyers filed an official legal request for his arrest.
The Egyptian president was supposed to arrive Friday in Johannesburg to lead his country’s delegation in the African summit titled “Enabling African Women,” which will take place on June 14 and 15.
“We believe Al-Sisi committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for the horrendous killings that resulted from the (2013) coup in Egypt,” attorney Yousha Tayoub, a member of the South African Muslim Lawyers Association, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.
A well-informed African diplomatic source told Anadolu Agency that Al-Sisi would not participate. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Egypt had officially informed the host country that Al-Sisi would not participate in the summit, and that PM Ibrahim Mehleb will lead the Egyptian delegation instead.
A former military commander, Al-Sisi is widely seen as the architect of the 2013 coup against President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president and a Muslim Brotherhood leader.
At the time, the South African government had vocally criticized Morsi’s ouster and the subsequent crackdown on political dissent waged by Egypt’s army-backed government.