Dear Ban Ki-moon, please withdraw your video

A respectful request to the head of the United Nations.

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
17 February 2015

Dear Ban Ki-moon,

The organisers of next week’s Global Law Summit, from 22nd to the 25th February, are using the announcement of a short video address by you to give them legitimacy. I am writing to ask you to withdraw your video. For what they are doing is wrong.

Presented as a gathering about the rule of law to mark this year’s 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the so-called ‘summit’, with tickets at £1,750 ($2,600), is nothing of the sort. The programme itself describes it as a shameless opportunity for networking, promising “a platform for thought-leadership and cutting-edge debate, and facilitate business networks and access to key industry decision makers”. What is the “industry” whose “key decision makers” delegates will be given “access” to, for their money? Answer, it is the legal industry. That is how they see the rule of law: as a means of facilitating corporate power in a global market-place.

The opening keynote speech is billed as being about “The Rule of Law and Supranational Bodies”. I need to correct that already. The speaker addressing this subject, so close to your own interests, was to have been Lord Green, Chairman of the City of London’s Advisory Council. But he has just been forced to resign in disgrace, as he was the chief of HSBC when it indulged in far too much supranational activity. 

Dear Ban Ki-moon, are you on the side of the people or the plutocrats and their agents, (even if one of the latter has now stepped aside)?

I ask because this question concerns a central political and legal issue of our period. Will corporate power undermine democratic government? As the head of the United Nations you should be helping make sure it does not.

Britain’s current Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron MP, welcomes those who can afford to come to the event, which it seems his government has persuaded you to speak to by video, in frankly patriotic terms: “To mark 800 years since Magna Carta, I am pleased that London will welcome global leaders in both business and the law to discuss the issues that are shaping the agenda legally, commercially and socially over the next generation. I am delighted to support the Global Law Summit – it is yet more evidence that Britain continues to lead the way in promoting free enterprise, economic growth, and the rule of law around the world.”

You can see how he links the ideals that are symbolised by the Magna Carta to the international commercial interests of the City of London. But today the Magna Carta should stand for three things, none of which the Prime Minister mentions. First, holding arbitrary power to account; second, protecting liberty by ensuring all have access to justice; third, protecting the commons, the environment that belongs to all humanity.

Yes, there is much myth in this tradition for the historic document was the result of a medieval deal between King and Barons. But both the history and what has been made of it belongs to us all, not just the English, and with this tradition we can start to hold today’s Barons to account, and defend modern liberty, access to justice and the non-despotic rule of law, for all races and creeds.

As the so-called ‘Summit’ is being hosted here in London, this battle falls especially to us, but we want your solidarity and support to call on those taking part from around the world to renounce their participation.

First, the corporations stole our media; then, they stole our political parties; then, they stole our government, and now, they want to steal our history and the idea of law itself. If they get away with this, we will be unable to reverse their robbery of democracy.

It is not your place to get involved in the politics of individual countries. But you should be aware that Mr Cameron’s government is setting about the destruction of the British legal aid system that allows the weak to take the strong to court. You will surely agree that there cannot be the rule of law if those who are poor are deprived of access to justice. For such a government to persuade you to celebrate the ideals of the Magna Carta is a scandal.

So, dear Ban Ki-moon, please join us in calling on those intending to go to the so-called Global Law Summit, that if they have an ounce of love of justice in them, to abandon its disgraceful attractions.

With great respect,

Anthony Barnett

Founder, openDemocracy

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