A Struggle for Peace

A Struggle for Peace



Whereas he had previously refused any commitment in world affairs in view of the fragility of human things, a man finds love and engages, with the woman he loves at his side, in a struggle for law, justice and peace in the midst of the wars of our times.

This struggle will yield stronger and stronger tensions for him, in view of the tragedies of our world, of the difficulties to act about them and even to know what should be done, in view of divergent opinions e.g. on international justice and about wars in Libya and in Syria These tensions will lead him to pessimism and to his fate, in spite of the love of the woman, who conserves her hope in the progress of humanity: the future is open...

The novel is presented as a Greek tragedy, in three acts. It is partly a romance, but is based on true facts and stories and gives a simple but often unknown information on international law, with its ambiguities and problems, on wars of our times as also on humanitarian organizations. It is also a reflection on our human condition.



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Published 10 June 2016
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EAN13 9782954649214
License: All rights reserved
Language English

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Daniel LAGOT



18, rue des Lyonnais – 75005 Paris



Preliminary Noteand Acknowledgments


This novel is a slightly modified and updated version of the book published in 2015 by the Editions France Empire. It is based on real facts and stories, although it is partly fictionalized as explained below and in the afterword.

The simple, but often unknown, information on international law and on wars, in particular in Libya and Syria, as also all facts cited in this connection and quotes of known personalities are accurate. The conferences presented in Part II are directly adapted from those that have been organized by the French Association on International Law and War (adifinfo.com), with the collaboration, for two if them, of the Conferences on Science and World Affairs, 1995 Nobel Peace prize laureate. The main difference is the replacement of their actual organizers, the present author and colleagues, by the fictive characters introduced in the novel.

The interested reader will find more details in the afterword. I thank the ADIF for allowing me to be freely inspired by its activities. I also thank my friends for their comments and suggestions.

Paris, May 2016



I am now in the twilight of my life. The 20th century, in which over half of it took place, is now old history, and events I will speak about here also begin to fade. However, it is that period of the first part of our century, from 2003 to 2015, which comes back to my memory I remember the man and woman I have been very close to, their love, their commitment to law, justice and peace, their destiny.

July 2003. I have met them in a strange way. I was sitting in front of them in the Paris subway, from Charles de Gaulle-Etoile to Montparnasse. The woman was in her fifties. Slight wrinkles appeared on her face, but I was sensitive to the grace and elegance that emanated from her. While listening to the man, she looked at him and smiled in a deeply loving way. She occasionally put her head on his shoulder.

The man was a little older. His face was grim and tense. Was he speaking about small problems of our daily life which overwhelm us up to the time everything takes again its right place, or of major existential problems? Some words caught my attention: he was talking about international law and the war launched by the United States in March in Iraq.

I am a law professor. I distrust people who do not know what they are speaking about or repeat trivialities, but it was not so: what he said was sometimes questionable but interesting and relevant. And I was fascinated by the way the woman looked at him. No woman had looked at me in that way as I was trying, without much success, to tell her my own stories…From time to time, he said “Well, I have sufficiently bored you today with all that”, but she answered “No, I listen to you” with a smile.

He spoke critically, I will have the occasion to come back to it in more detail, about the roles of the UN Security Council, which had endorsed the US occupation of Iraq despite the probable illegality of their war, of the General Assembly which did not really react and of the UN International Court of Justice, which could have stated law on that matter but did not do it. He also wondered about the possible role of the International Criminal Court, recently created by a treaty between States, which has started its activities in 2002.

As he was speaking, the train had stopped a long time at the station Kleber. He ended his speech by expressing his strong doubts about the US claim to bring freedom and democracy through bombardments and his concern about the sufferings of Iraqi people, in addition to those caused by years of embargo after the 1991 war. While listening to him, I had remembered the beautiful speech in which Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, had expressed the opposition of France to the war in the United Nations, in February:

“…In this temple of the United Nations, we are the guardians of an ideal, of a conscience… The heavy responsibility and the great honor which are ours must lead us to give priority to peace… And it is an old country, of an old continent, which has known wars, occupation, barbarity, which tells you so”

The train started again. The woman then told him, to change a little his ideas, she said, about a TV program the day before. Paris had given the name of the former French President François Mitterand to the boulevard between the river Seine and the Louvre museum. Ecologists grumbled: they cited in particular the destruction, as he was president, of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior. Another guest, one of these characters “I know everything and I am always right”, she said with a smile, had derided them peremptorily and the general discussion which had been planned on names of streets could not take place.

“Too bad, she said, it is not a major problem, but it was an occasion to speak about it. We just passed through the Trocadero station. This name celebrates, as you know, the victory in 1823, under King Louis XVIII, of a French military expedition, conducted in support of the absolute monarchy, against the Spanish people who fought for freedom. Rather weird for a place nowadays related to human rights…

And what to say about streets Adolphe Thiers, named after the man who ordered the bloody murder of Parisians after the defeat of the Paris 1871 insurrection. We walked yesterday, at the Luxembourg Garden, in front of the memorial plaque on one of the walls where Parisians were shot The Commune de Paris was a great moment of French history despite its excesses and crimes, but the crime of Thiers is far beyond…”

“Yes, he answered, cases you cite are particularly shocking. Should one remove all names more or less related to crimes? There are many further reasons to blame Mitterand. Minister of Justice in 1956, he let Algerian war prisoners be sent to guillotine. But he also presided in 1981 to the abolition of the death sentence in France.

We started today from Place Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. The French army committed crimes in Algeria under de Gaulle from 1958 to 1962, but he was probably not directly responsible, he had the courage to end colonization and we honor the great resistant of World War II and the president of the French independence policy. Napoleon, glorified by the Triumph Arch erected at this same place…”

The train stopped again. An announcement asked passengers to wait. He stopped talking and I could not know at that time what he thought, between the way Napoleon had confiscated the French Revolution, the bloody wars he was partly responsible for, and the modernity he had contributed to bring to France. He will later tell me he was not shocked by avenues Napoleon, but preferred not live there…

After a while, he talked about a 2001 international report on the “Responsibility to Protect”. In the 1990s, the UN Security Council had decided ‘humanitarian’ wars in some countries, despite the principle of non interference of the UN itself in internal affairs of a country, stated in Chapter I of the UN Charter, which had previously prevailed: to that purpose, the Council had put forward a questionable argument, namely that events in these countries were a threat to international peace, in which case it may act under Chapter VII. But there had been no action during the main part of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The report, the conclusions of which would be later largely adopted by the UN in 2005, I will come back to it, did not propose to establish an actual right of humanitarian intervention, but admitted that a threat to international peace might arise from serious crimes committed in a country, in particular during an internal armed conflict, and might thus justify an armed intervention, under UN aegis, if the State concerned, which had the primary responsibility of protecting its population, was unable to do it or was itself responsible for the crimes, and if peaceful means had failed.

“For internal armed conflicts, the man said, this would be the third part of a triptych, the first one of which is Humanitarian International Law which aims to define laws of war, to prohibit some arms and methods of war and to define, among the latter, crimes concerning, by their nature, the whole humanity, and the second one is international justice towards persons responsible for such crimes.

But, in the absence of a modification of the Charter, invoking a threat to international peace seems uncertain and, in any case, what will be the outcome of this beautiful construction? In an ideal world, we would trust the wisdom of the Council, but we may fear it will still act according to wishes of the most powerful States, themselves responsible for some of the worst crimes of our times, nowadays in Iraq, in Chechnya…What is then the protection of populations?…”

The train moved again. They got up at Montparnasse. After a brief hesitation, I followed them, introduced myself as the law professor I was, praying them to excuse me for having listened to them and for my intrusion, and I proposed to meet them to discuss these questions. They were first surprised, but accepted. As a matter of fact, it was the beginning of a long friendship and of a close collaboration on matters of international law and war as I will describe in this narration.

We left the subway together and I then invited them for a drink to the cafe La Coupole, on the Boulevard Montparnasse, where we would also often meet later. I start writing this story on the table around which we were sitting that day…

The man told me later what had been the end of that day for them after we parted. They arrived at his apartment and he resumed his speech on the Responsibility to Protect and the problems it raised both from the viewpoint of law and in itself, when a scene of a 20th century movie abruptly came back to his mind. The two young lovers are naked on their bed at night. The young man speaks, in an inspired way, about the way Lenin left Switzerland, where he had found a refuge, in 1917 to reach Russia through Germany and become the major actor of the Bolshevik revolution. The young woman kisses his sex while listening to him.

The scene was merely lit up by a slight clarity coming from the moon. It had nevertheless caused a scandal at that time. He had also then been shocked but, in the same time, had found it natural and beautiful. A smile then crossed his face that evening: the scene the woman and he were playing, he will tell me, was very different and certainly very far from being as beautiful, but that day marked the second anniversary of their meeting and it was thus supposed to be a moment of privacy for them. Would it be so if world events took the advantage? He stopped talking…

During years that followed, I was their confident and the witness of their love and of their commitment to law, justice and peace. I tell here their story in the hope it will move those who will lend attention to it, and will give them some information on the world we live in. I did not indicate their names upon request of the woman. Their friends will recognize them.


Chapter 1   The Past


July 2001. At a meeting the man has organized that evening on international law and war, he notices, in the room, a woman who looks intensely at him while he is speaking. During the cocktail that follows, a silhouette emerges among the participants. It’s her. He looks at her as she approaches, and is immediately moved. They start to talk, she makes interesting remarks on his speech and they start talking about their lives. What has been his up to that time?

He was born in 1941. He has only few memories of the period of the war, such as uncertain images as he is walking in a park with his mother holding his hand, or the dark room in which they live. His mother, of Jewish origin, has been sheltered with him in the South of France by an old woman to whom he will later understand how much he has to be grateful. There was a requisition order of the Jewish population. His mother decided not to obey it. Some people around them had kindly welcomed them and asked no question, but others expressed their astonishment. “You are still there?” one of them asked, as his mother will tell him later, but there was no denunciation.

While a child, he already asks questions on world events, but nobody answers. Bombing a civilian population was supposed to be a crime, but this apparently did not apply to Hiroshima. Or the Security Council had launched, in 1950, the UN war against North Korea, accused of aggression against South Korea: this was possibly justified but a priori impossible since the Soviet Union, which supported North Korea, was a permanent member of the Council and could oppose it…

There were thus mysteries to which only adults had apparently access… The answers he finally obtains, after many efforts, leave him perplexed.

The United States had ratified the international 1899 and 1907 The Hague Conventions which prohibited methods of war of a nature to cause superfluous injury and “bombardments of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended”, in the line of the 1868 Saint-Petersburg Declaration between European countries according to which: “The only legitimate purpose of war is to weaken military forces of the enemy, it would be exceeded by the use of arms uselessly aggravating the sufferings of disabled men or rendering their death inevitable. It would be contrary to the laws of humanity”.

But, according to the US thesis, the attack did not target the Hiroshima population as such: it targeted the military equipments of the city, which defended it, and it was a show of force intended to obtain the surrender of Japan: the harm caused was not superfluous in view of this overall military benefit…

About Korea, the Soviet Union then refused to attend the Council meetings, to protest against the refusal to admit the new communist regime as the representative of China, and thought it was blocking any decision: “An affirmative vote… including the concurring votes of the permanent members” (all permanent members in the French version with the same legal value) is needed according to the Charter. In its absence, the Council interpreted it in its own way: only a negative vote (veto) would block a decision…

This was maybe a positive evolution but, in the absence of modification of the Charter, international law was, he thought, a weird science. This feeling was confirmed when the General Assembly, where there is no veto but whose role is a priori to make non binding recommendations until decisions of the Council, adopted its resolution United for peace whereit gives itself the right to organize collective actions if the Council “fails to exercise its primary responsibility for international peace, due to a lack of unanimity of its permanent members”.

Intended at that time to counter a possible later veto of the Soviet Union which had returned to the Council, it was accepted and sometimes used later against wishes of Western countries (but not of the United States), e.g. for a boycott of South Africa at the time of apartheid after its aggression against Namibia.

The Korean war, terribly murderous with millions of victims due in particular to massive US bombings, and the French wars in Indochina and then in Algeria marked his childhood and adolescence. His sympathy went to national liberation struggles and going to war in Algeria, where young French people were sent to fight, did not please him. The miracle occurred for him with the Evian peace agreements in March 1962, just as he was sent to Algeria after his scientific studies: after hesitating with law, he had chosen science, hoping it would help him to forget world events for more basic questions…

But he was shocked by the Vietnam war, the US bombings, the massacres, the use of the agent orange, containing dioxin, to destroy vegetation with its long term consequences for the population… There were one to three million dead from 1961 to 1975 until the victory of the national resistance in South Vietnam, supported by North Vietnam, after the US had ceased to directly intervene under pressure of public opinion. And, in Cambodia, their war, after the coup they had instigated in 1970, also caused hundreds of thousands of deaths until the victory, in 1975, of the national resistance led by the Khmer Rouge.

In 1968, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Berkeley and followed events in France only that far, but assisted to student protests against the war. After returning to France, the group where he turned to be during a demonstration against it in Paris overthrew a police car. One of the organizers already claimed in his megaphone: “We have changed the balance of forces”. But the police pushed back protesters unceremoniously. Those behind kept going forward. Caught between them, he thought he was going to suffocate. This was his only “feat of arms”, he told me later with a smile.

He witnessed the fragility of human affairs: what was true one day, was no longer the next day, what seemed unimaginable later became the reality of our world.

The independence of Algeria was followed by new dramas due to extremists of both sides, and the population of European origin was led to exile. And there was, in 1963, a war between Algeria and Morocco, which had sheltered Algerian combatants against France, in the region where, second lieutenant, he had worked in 1962 for the maintenance of border tracks along fences previously intended to stop infiltrations: the French war was over, but one had to occupy soldiers before their departure.

The reunification of Vietnam was natural but was conducted in a brutal way by North Vietnam, in contrast to its previous claims, with new dramas such as the exile of boat people. And, in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge policy, with displacements of populations, agricultural reform and public works (seawalls, dams…), which were useful but were conducted under extreme conditions, had again led to hundreds of thousands, or over one million victims according to sources, due to diseases, starvation and large-scale executions of real or supposed opponents.

It was a new tragedy, though not a genocide, which refers to the intention of partly or totally destroying a national, racial, ethnic or religious group as such. It ended in 1979 when the Vietnamese army entered Cambodia: local conflicts had developed between the two countries, previously united against the United States. Vietnam invoked legitimate defense in view of a supposed Khmer Rouge intention to attack it, a “preventive” invasion which was illegal with regard to international law. Was it justified on humanitarian grounds?

A long war, with new dramas, then started between the Vietnamese army and the Khmer Rouge, who had found refuge in remote areas of the country. A brief war also opposed Vietnam and China, which had supported Vietnamese against the United States: both peoples, the Chinese press then said, were “united as lips and teeth”.

The history of the Soviet Union and of Communist China, the epics they had represented for many people, but also the dark side of their tragedies and of their crimes, to end with their confrontation and later with the end of the Soviet Union, strengthened his reluctance to engage in world affairs.

In China, which he had visited in 1964 I will come back to it, the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ of...