Ramsey Clark (1927-2021) anti-imperialist fighter for human rights

(Translation of Ramsey Clark (1927-2021) – antiimperialistischer Kämpfer für Menschenrechte, Ossietzky, 10/2021, 22.5.2021)

On the evening of April 9, 2021, former U.S. Attorney General and prominent human rights activist, Ramsey Clark, passed away in New York at the age of 93. With him, the world lost a staunch, tireless, and brilliant opponent of Western war policies. On the memorial page set up to receive remembrances of him on the homepage of the International Action Center (IAC), which he founded, numerous personalities from around the world, including the presidents of Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, paid tribute to his “commitment and dedication to peace and justice.”

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“We salute Ramsey Clark,” said his longtime comrade-in-arms at the International Action Center, Sara Flounders, “an outspoken defender of all forms of popular resistance to oppression, a leader always willing to challenge the crimes of U.S. militarism and global arrogance.” He would be “remembered by people and struggles around the world as a prominent  individual who used his name, reputation and legal skills to defend people’s movements and leaders who the corporate media had thoroughly demonized.” The enormous esteem in which he was held around the world was evident at the celebration of his 85th birthday at New York’s famous Riverside Church, when hundreds of activists from civil society organizations around the world, as well as representatives from the UN and countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Peru, Iran and Serbia, came to honor him and thank him for his work.

Clark also had a considerable influence on the German peace and solidarity movement, at least beginning in 1991, when the USA launched its “New World Order” with the first war against Iraq. I was personally stirred by his book “The Fire This Time”, which revealed the extent of the crimes committed in the war against Iraq, as well as his early commitment against the Iraq embargo.

Ramsey Clark comes from the heart of the Texas political establishment. As a child, he made ice cream in the kitchen of future presidential spouse, Lady Bird Johnson, and his father became a Supreme Court justice. As a law student and lawyer, however, he began to take an increasingly critical view of the prevailing conditions, which were marked by racism and aligned with the interests of the ruling elites. At first, he tried to change them by working in the government. He became deputy attorney general under John F. Kennedy and, from 1967, attorney general in Lyndon Johnson’s administration. During this time, he was instrumental in the 1965 and 1968 Civil Rights laws affecting the Black population, and drafted legislation on housing and the enforcement of treaty rights for Indigenous nations.

While most members of the government turned their posts into multi-million dollar careers after leaving office, Ramsey Clark used his renown as a former attorney general to advocate for the poor, oppressed, and those without recognized rights, becoming a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy as well as of the human rights situation in the country. “The world is the most dangerous place it’s ever been now because of what our country has done, and is doing, and we have to take it back”, he summarized his position at a protest against the inauguration of George W. Bush on January 20, 2005.

In 1972, during the bombing campaign under President Richard Nixon, he travelled to North Vietnam against Washington’s wishes to document U.S. war crimes. It was one of the first of many trips Ramsey Clark made from then on to meet victims of U.S. aggression and to show solidarity with countries under attack. For example, he visited Cuba numerous times to denounce the U.S. blockade, stood alongside the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua in 1979, and supported the liberation struggle in El Salvador against a U.S.-backed dictatorship in the 1980s.

In 1991, during the height of the U.S. bombing campaign, he travelled to Iraq ‒ despite the high personal risk ‒ to document the bombing’s repercussions. He subsequently wrote a 19-point, legally impressive indictment against the Bush administration for war crimes and crimes against humanity that received considerable international attention. The indictment became the basis of an independent “International War Crimes Tribunal,” similar to the Russell Tribunals, with public hearings in 19 countries. In 1996, he added charges of genocide and “use of a weapon of mass destruction” because of the devastating consequences of the use of uranium munitions and the deadly embargo.

Similarly, after the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he indicted NATO and called for its dissolution. Clark was in Yugoslavia twice during the 78 days of NATO airstrikes, visiting bombed schools, hospitals, marketplaces, water treatment plants, grain silos, and pharmaceutical factories. He also met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and took later on his defense at the NATO tribunal in The Hague. In his view, the wrong people were indicted there. According to his indictment for the “People’s Tribunal on War Crimes in Yugoslavia,” which he proposed, U.S. President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright should have been in the dock, as well as the responsible government officials of Germany, Great Britain, France and other NATO powers.

From then on, the conflicts that demanded his attention increased, including the invasion of Afghanistan, the second war against Iraq, and the manifold other U.S. aggressions in the so-called “war on terror.” Tirelessly, he and his fellow activists denounced the rampant military operations, drone attacks, secret arrests, economic blockades, regime change actions, etc. After the “Arab Spring” this was joined by the NATO war against Libya and the aggression of the U.S. and its allies against Syria. Clark also travelled to Syria several times to again draw attention to the consequences of Washington’s subversive and military operations on civilians.

While his work has focused primarily on defending nations under attack by the United States, he has also defended many political prisoners of the empire inside and outside the United States. These include Mumia Abu-Jamal and Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier.

He faced particularly sharp attacks in the West for taking on the defense of highly controversial victims of U.S. policy, such as Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. He was accused of defending evil dictators and criminals simply because they were enemies of the United States. In his view, however, every defendant was entitled to a defence. Above all, it was important to him to educate people about the background of the wars and not to leave the writing of history to the victors alone. Despite hostility from politicians and the media in the West, in 2008 the United Nations General Assembly awarded Ramsey Clark its Human Rights Award, which it presents every five years to deserving defenders of human rights. The U.N. honored him for speaking out against U.S. abuses in the fight against terrorism. Previous recipients of the award have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


More about him on the comprehensive website of the The International Action Center Ramsey Clark Tributes.

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