O’Toole: when murder is a war crime…

Fintan O’Toole’s attention these days rarely wanders north of the border, but Mitchel McLaughlin’s performance on Questions & Answers the other day led him to consider the concept of crime (subs needed) and more specifically war crime in today’s Irish Times.

The fact is that even by the IRA’s own standards, the murder of Jean McConville and hundreds of other acts of violence it has perpetrated are crimes. The IRA justifies itself by claiming that it was engaged in a war, and that wars inevitably involve the infliction of violence on others. Along with Mitchel McLaughlin, it conveniently forgets that there is also such a thing as a war crime.

And by all accepted definitions of war crimes, the murder of Jean McConville was an illegal act. The International Criminal Court, of which Ireland is a member, clearly states that war crimes do apply to “an armed conflict not of an international character”, a category which obviously applies to the Northern Ireland troubles.

Under this heading, it defines as crimes a number of acts against non-combatants that the IRA perpetrated against Jean McConville, including “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”, and “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognised as indispensable.”

The IRA’s refusal to disclose Jean McConville’s fate or produce her body also constituted a war crime, that of “enforced disappearance of persons”, defined as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organisation, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons.”