It was only when I saw the glow from Tony Blair’s tan that I knew I couldn’t chicken out.
Without telling anyone, I had hatched a vague plan the previous day to place the former prime minister under a citizen’s arrest during his scheduled visit to the European Parliament on Monday but was not certain that I would have the guts to proceed with it.
When I realised Blair was just a few metres away from me, I walked swiftly towards him and placed a hand on his right arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said. For a millisecond, he looked at me with his penetrating eyes, treating me to an expression that seemed to blend puzzlement and contempt. I had intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station but I was abruptly shoved out of the way by at least one of his bodyguards. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted at his back, as he made his way towards a meeting room.
My attempt was inspired by the Arrest Blair campaign that George Monbiot, the environmental activist and Guardian columnist, has set up. I was aware that the protester Grace McCann had made an earlier effort to arrest Blair after he appeared at the Chilcot inquiry in January. As mine was the second attempt since Monbiot launched his initiative, many well-wishers have expressed a hope that it will be a case of third time lucky. I wouldn’t bet on the chances of a successful arrest but would encourage others to have a go, provided they use peaceful means.
I am no expert on the legal issues surrounding citizens arrests but I did know that a precedent had been set by Peter Tatchell, when he tried to apprehend Robert Mugabe, also in Brussels, in 2001.
Britain and Belgium have both ratified the Rome statute, which entered into force in 2002. This accord, which covers the activities of the International Criminal Court, refers to the crime of aggression. In my view, the war that Blair and George Bush declared against Iraq just over seven years ago constitutes such a crime as it was demonstrably not an act of self-defence. So far the ICC has only issued indictments against Africans; why should international justice not apply to white men like Blair and Bush?
Although my attempt was motivated primarily by my outrage at the Iraq war, I also wished to highlight the obscenity of Blair’s current role as a “peace envoy” in the Middle East. Last year I visited the house of Maher Hanoun and his family in East Jerusalem – which was stolen from them by Israeli settlers a few months later. Blair has an office in the nearby American Colony hotel but has uttered no more than a few feeble words of concern at the ethnic cleansing on its doorstep. How can a man so willing to accommodate the destruction of Arab culture be trusted to bring peace?
Originally published by The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk)