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The NS Interview: Richard Goldstone

“I’m certainly a friend of Israel – I don’t mind being called a Zionist”

You served as a judge under apartheid in South Africa. How difficult was it to fulfil that role?
I wouldn't have accepted an appointment if human rights lawyers hadn't already begun to use the courts to establish rights for black South Africans. People like John Didcott, a leading anti-apartheid campaigner who went on the bench in the Natal region and blazed a trail there, encouraged me. There were already decisions knocking holes in the oppressive system.

Did those campaigners invoke international law or rely on domestic law?
International law was relevant, but Roman-Dutch common law was very egalitarian, and the apartheid legislation overlaid it, so there were gaps where the common law came through. Apartheid legislators liked to use benign words in their statutes, hoping the judges would know how to interpret them, so there were large areas where one could interpret the law in a way that was less oppressive. Later I chaired the Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation, which exposed illegal behaviour even under apartheid.

South Africa is still your home. Do you feel the government has lived up to early expectations?
South Africa, for all its problems, has been a tremendous success. But expectations were unrealistically high. It will take decades, generations, to overcome the heritage of 350 years of racial oppression. It's going in a good direction.

You were prosecutor at the Yugoslav Tribunal. Was it an example of victors' justice?
Nuremberg was victors' justice, but The Hague certainly wasn't. It was anything but. It was an international court, and none of the judges involved had an interest.

There were accusations that a quota from each side was prosecuted to prove impartiality.
There was definitely pressure in that direction, but I did not succumb to it. In my book, being even-handed means treating similar crimes
similarly. So if - on a scale of one to ten, with ten the most serious - we were prosecuting crimes by the Serbs rated ten, it was not appropriate to go after ones or twos committed by Bosniaks.

How important was the tribunal?
It was hugely significant: the first truly international, as opposed to multinational, court. It was part of a very welcome development in international law, which has been progressively removing impunity from war criminals.

Were the Yugoslav and the Rwanda tribunals a flash in the pan?
Not at all. They gave rise to the International Criminal Court, supported by 110 nations - admittedly not some of the most powerful, such as Russia and the US, but that will change. The movement is in one direction. Just recently, for the first time in eight years, the US was an observer at the meetings of states party to the ICC.

There are still furious debates about the Kosovo intervention. What's your assessment?
I chaired the International Commission on Kosovo. We came to a unanimous conclusion -
I suppose an oxymoron - that the Nato intervention was illegal but legitimate. Russia tried to get the Security Council to condemn the Ko­sovo intervention but lost by 12 votes to three. It was an after-the-fact acceptance of what happened. That led to the Canadian inquiry, which developed into the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, which has in turn become soft law.

Some who criticised your support for Nato now cheer the Gaza report. What about accusations that it was biased against Israel?
The original mandate was biased, but the president of the Human Rights Council agreed with me to change it. As with Rwanda and Yugosla­via, we investigated all sides.

Were you apprehensive taking it on?
Of course! The Middle East is not the easiest part of the world, but I assumed, perhaps naively, that because of the even-handed mandate, Israel would co-operate. Obviously I was really saddened when they refused.

You've been described as a friend of Israel, a Zionist. Is that accurate?
I'm certainly a friend of Israel. I don't mind being called a Zionist; it depends on the definition.
Perhaps that's why you weren't criticised to begin with. Then the floodgates opened . . .
There has definitely been a consistent effort to attack the messenger rather than read the report. Clearly, personal attacks have been unpleasant for me, and unpleasant for my family.

Where do you see the Gaza debate going now?
I hate prophesying. I really do not know how it will go, but the report seems to have gained its own momentum.

How has the new era of accountability for war crimes changed the landscape?
Impunity, generally speaking, has come to an end - I don't think there's any person today accused of committing international crimes who can feel happy travelling. That in itself, if not a complete success, must act as a deterrent.

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: one year on

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: one year on