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Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler is urging the United States to arrest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for inciting to genocide against Israel, if Ahmadinejad goes through with plans to enter the US to speak at the UN General Assembly later this month.
Cotler says there is no doubt of the international legality and viability of such a prosecution, since Ahmadinejad is in clear breach of the UN's post-World War II "Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
Under the principle of "universal jurisdiction," Cotler told The Jerusalem Post, any state can prosecute the crime in its own courts provided the alleged offender is in its territory.
"Every state has a responsibility to enforce the convention," Cotler said. "The US should absolutely arrest him. The convention is explicitly designed to prevent as well as to punish genocide, but cases to date have come too late for prevention. Here we have an opportunity for preventative action, the more pressing because of Iran's nuclear program."
The convention brands as a criminal offense the "direct and public incitement to genocide," and it defines genocide as action carried out with the "intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
In Cotler's view, Ahmadinejad falls clearly into the category of an offender. "Here is a president who has declared his intention to wipe Israel off the map," he said. "His audiences chant 'death to Israel' at his instigation. Iran holds parades at which Shihab missiles are paraded with emblems echoing his calls to wipe Israel out. He speaks at conferences prominently dedicated to the 'world with Zionism.' That adds up to conclusive, compelling evidence of his intentions."
Cotler told the Post he was far from certain that the US would choose to act in this way - "though it should, and it would be a hell of thing if did."
He added, however, that he had recently briefed the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about other options for legal action against Ahmadinejad - including referring the president's violations of the convention to the UN for possible sanctions and prosecuting him at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Cotler is himself following a non-state option for legal action against the Iranian leader, and a non-state initiative has also been launched in Israel to prosecute Ahmadinejad at the ICJ.
Ahmadinejad announced earlier this month that he intended to visit New York to speak to the General Assembly, and the State Department confirmed on Friday that he had formally applied to the US for an entry visa.
The Iranian president spoke at the General Assembly last September, and later declared that he held the audience spellbound. "I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there, and for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink," he said. "They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a decision on the visa application was pending. As host country, the US normally approved visa requests from foreign leaders to travel to UN headquarters, he said, but added that the administration was looking at the application "in the context of our obligations and our laws."