A Brussels reporter attempted to place Tony Blair under a citizen’s arrest on Monday (22 March) for his role in the invasion of Iraq, during a visit by the former UK prime minister to the European Parliament for a hearing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the seventh anniversary of the invasion almost to the day, late afternoon, David Cronin, an Irish journalist with the Inter Press Service news agency and a regular writer on European Union affairs for The Guardian, the British centre-left daily, approached Mr Blair, as he was due to discuss with MEPs his current work as a Middle East special envoy.
Tony Blair, currently a top-level envoy to the Middle East, is finding it hard to shake off the Iraq War ghosts (Photo: The Council of the European Union)
Placing his hand on the former prime minister’s arm, Mr Cronin said: “Mr Blair, this is a citizens’ arrest.”
The ex-Labour leader, in the parliament to speak as the special representative of the Quartet – the EU, US, Russia and the UN – momentarily flinched, but the 38-year-old reporter was quickly pushed away by a bodyguard.
“You are guilty of war crimes,” he said, intending to invite Mr Blair to accompany him to the nearest police station to be charged with committing a “a war of aggression” – a military conflict waged without the justification of self-defense – in breach of customary international law, specifically the Nuremberg Principles under the rubric of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, the legal body that exercises jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.
Both Belgium and the UK have ratified the Rome Statute, although all parties to the text have yet to adopt a definition of the crime of aggression. The parties are due to hold a review conference in the first half of 2010 where a definition is expected to be agreed.
The reporter was not himself arrested or accosted by European Parliament security, but simply left the room of his own accord. Attempting to re-enter half an hour later, Mr Cronin was refused entry and guards later requested to see his press card.
Speaking to EUobserver after the event, Mr Cronin said he had been inspired by the attempts to arrest Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe by UK human rights activist Peter Tatchell in London in 1999 and in Brussels in 2001. The campaign launched in January by Guardian columnist George Monbiot to repeat the attempt on Mr Blair also featured in his thinking.
“My motivation in trying to arrest Blair is entirely based on my contempt for the crimes he has committed and abetted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Serbia,” he told this website.
“Perhaps 1 million lives were lost in Iraq alone,” he added, referring to the Lancet medical journal survey of war casualties.
It is the second such attempted arrest of the former British leader. British anti-war protester Grace McCann was the first to try to collar Mr Blair, following his January testimony before the Chilcot enquiry into the UK’s role in the 2003 invasion.
Mr Monbiot’s campaign has posted a rolling bounty on Mr Blair, collecting donations via the internet. Each person attempting an arrest is entitled to a quarter of the money collected at the time.
Mr Cronin said that if found to be eligible for the bounty, he would prefer that the money go to a Palestinian human rights charity in the Gaza Strip.
A spokeswoman for the European Parliament told EUobserver that she felt the security response to the incident was satisfactory.
“We find the behaviour of the journalist somewhat silly. Mr Blair’s safety was at no moment in any danger. The bodyguards dealt with the journalist and for us that’s it,” Marjory van den Broeke told this website, adding that they “have no plans to withdraw his press card.”
Spokespeople for the UK mission to the European Union refused to comment on the incident.