Saturday, 6 March 2010


Outside the United Nations headquarters in New York stands a statue titled Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares.

The statue is inspired by a biblical quote from the Book of Isaiah (2:4):
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

East Timor Ploughshares
On 29 January, 1996, acting on the need to prevent a greater crime, local councillor Joanna Wilson from Merseyside, gardener Lotta Kronlid from Sweden, and nurse Andrea Needham from Kirby, entered the British Aerospace military site at Warton, Lancashire and proceeded to disarm a Hawk warplane.

The warplane was part of an order destined for Indonesia, which at the time was waging a genocidal war against the people of East Timor with more than 200,000 East Timorese killed, which is about one third of the pre-invasion population.

The women hammered on the radar nose of the plane and on the control panel. They stuck photographs to the jet's cockpit, showing the victims of the Santa Cruz massacre in November 1991 (when Indonesian troops opened fire on a peaceful protest, killing 270 people).

The women were part of the Christian peace "Ploughshares Movement".

"These planes will soon be killing people in East Timor unless action is taken immediately to stop them", the group said.

Another member of the group, Angie Zelter, an environmental campaigner from Norfolk, publicly stated that she intended to carry out a future ploughshares action at BAe to continue the process of disarmament there, noting:
‘One-third of the East Timorese population have died through the brutal actions of the Indonesian occupation. Hawks from a previous arms sale have been seen bombing villages in East Timor. I believe that the British Government and BAe are aiding and abetting genocide in East Timor by sending Hawk aircraft to Indonesia and that it is clear that they have no intention of taking responsibility for the deaths that have and will result from their arms deals...I believe my act of personal disarmament is a way to uphold international Laws, including the Genocide Act and the Geneva Conventions Act, which set out rules for the protection of innocent civilians.'

The "Ploughshares Four" where held in remand until the trial in July, charged with illegal entry and criminal damage. During the seven-day trial, the women — three of whom defended themselves — said they were disarming the Hawk, not vandalizing it, claiming the action was justified because the plane was going to be used against the civilians of East Timor.

After six months of imprisonment and nine pre-trial court appearances, the jury trial for the four began on 23 July, 1997 at the Liverpool Crown Court.

Each of the women testified, stating that they had a lawful excuse to disarm the Hawk warplane because they were using reasonable force to prevent a greater crime. They also cited British legislation and International law that outlaws genocide.

After several hours the jury rendered a “not guilty” verdict.

See Kronlid, Lotta, Andrea Needham, Joanna Wilson and Angie Zelter, Seeds of Hope: East Timor Ploughshares: Women Disarming for Life and Justice, London, Seeds of Hope, 1996. and The Independent.

The Pitstop Ploughshares
On 3 February 2003, Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Ciaron O'Reilly and Damien Moran entered a hangar at Shannon Airport in County Clare, Ireland, and damaged the US Navy war plane that was on its way to Iraq. In the hangar they set up a shrine to the innocent of Iraq and prayed until the authorities arrived.

The five went to trial in Dublin circuit criminal court in March and October 2005 on two counts of Criminal Damage which carried a maximum of ten years imprisonment.

The March 2005 trial collapsed on the 6th day when Judge O'Donnell agreed with Defence counsel arguments that his adjudication was tainted with a 'perception of bias' which was undermining the defendant's right to a presumption of innocence. The judge agreed, called a mistrial, dismissed the jury, and instructed the media not to report on the reasons for the mistrial (which was that he made biased comments about a defence witness).

The October 2005 re-trial collapsed on the 10th day, after Judge Donagh MacDonagh agreed with Defence counsel that his attendance at the George W Bush inauguration in 2001 (amongst other meetings with Bush) was grounds for his removal from the case, in that his role was tainted with a 'perception of bias'.

The third trial of the Pitstop Ploughshares started on 10 July, 2006 and resulted in a unanimous 'Not Guilty' verdict on both charges after 12 days of testimony and legal argument. Judge Miriam Anderson had agreed on 9th Day of proceedings with Defence Counsel after extensive submissions and legal argument on the applicability of the statutory 'lawful excuse' defence. After 4½ hours of deliberation the Dublin jury of seven women and five men returned and gave their decision that all the accused should be acquitted as they honestly believed they were acting to save lives and property in Iraq and Ireland, and that their disarmament action was reasonable taking into consideration all the circumstances.

Climate Change - The Kingsnorth Court Case
In October 2007, six Greenpeace protesters (Huw Williams, Kevin Drake, Ben Stewart, Tim Hewke, Emily Hall and Will Rose) were arrested for breaking in to the Kingsnorth power station, climbing the 200 metre smokestack, painting the name "Gordon" on the chimney and causing an estimated £30,000 damage.

At their subsequent trial they admitted trying to shut the station down but argued that they were legally justified because they were trying to prevent climate change from causing greater damage to property elsewhere around the world.

Evidence was heard from David Cameron's environment adviser Zac Goldsmith, climate scientist James E. Hansen and an Inuit leader from Greenland, all saying that climate change was already seriously affecting life around the world.

The six activists were acquitted after arguing that they were legally justified in their actions to prevent climate change from causing greater damage to property around the world.

It was the first case where preventing property damage caused by climate change has been used as part of a "lawful excuse" defence in court.

See The Guardian article.

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