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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Comparative health and safety in a war context

Reports of health and safety prosecutions cover, with depressing regularity, incidents involving deaths and injuries caused by crushing. For example, an eighteen-year old worker, crushed by an unguarded industrial machine, lies dying in an English hospital. In Iraq, an eighteen-year old worker, crushed by British and American military operations, also lies dying in hospital. Physically and medically, there is no difference between the two. Both are innocent young human beings whose lives have been cut short by others.

Those responsible for the death of the first young man will almost certainly be prosecuted for health and safety offences and perhaps for manslaughter. His dependants are likely to receive financial compensation for his death. Those responsible for the second will not be held accountable in civil or criminal courts.

What is the difference? Physically, mentally and morally, none. In terms of law, it would probably be argued that the second is an unfortunate victim of an act of war. But we were under the general impression that war is illegal under international law. Not this War, those responsible would respond. But the great majority of international lawyers take the view that the Iraq War was illegal. The legal justification argument carries no weight.

Further arguments, involving political and military expediency, are also invalid. There is no justification for the second death. No justification, whether moral, ethical, legal, political or military. The fact that there is no justification debases legality and warps justice so that it becomes unrecognisable. English law has severed any connection with morality until it condemns the Iraq War and brings the war criminals to trial.

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