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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

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times