Singapore's recent arrest of a Swiss national for breaking and entering a subway train depot with the purpose of vandalizing a train may become a lesson in the universal application of the rule of law. If thirty two year old Oliver Fricker is found guilty of the offenses, in all likelihood, he will be subject to caning.
Surely, Fricker's cause will be held up by global critics of Singapore's penal code as an example of the disproportionately harsh punishments meted out to offenders, including capital punishment for smuggling drugs. However, the nature of the punishments is a debate for another day.
More important is the notion that the law acts as an effective deterrent to potential culprits and that wrongdoers are conducted in an impartial manner. After all, Fricker broke into a 'secure zone' train depot protected by fences and barbed wire. Tomorrow, terrorists break into another train depot not to spray paint carriages but to plant explosives.
In Fricker's case the law will take its natural cause. Swiss authorities have consular access and are providing assistance. The case will be tried in an open court.
Controversially, there are several 'versions' of the universality of the rule of law.
Consider that about a week ago, pirates boarded a ship sailing in international waters off the coast of Somalia. The ship was carrying aid and aid workers with the objective of delivering humanitarian aid to war ravaged Somalia. In the process, the aid workers hoped to raise publicity for their cause.
In their attempt to commandeer the ship, the pirates killed at least nine aid workers. Once in their control, the ship was towed to Kismayu where its crew and cargo was 'processed' by the pirates.
Ok, so the incident narrated above actually occurred in international waters between Cyprus and Israel. And the ship was a Turkish vessel trying to break the blockade of Gaza. There were no pirates, only Israeli Naval Commandos.
However, the events are real. Only the names of the participants have been changed.
Few would argue that Somali pirates repeatedly violate international law by hijacking ships and holding them to ransom. (Recognizing the threat to international commerce, the international community established the Combined Task Force 151 (CT 150) to counter piracy around the waters of Somalia.) Whether efforts to control Somali piracy are successful is debatable but there is a clear consensus the pirates operate outside of the law and should be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, the Israelis forcibly boarded an internationally flagged vessel in international waters. Killed some passengers and then towed the ship to Israel where all passengers were processed before being released. (Yes, the Israelis did not demand a ransom so there is no 'hijacking for ransom' offense.)
Unfortunately, there will be no legal repercussions faced by Israel for flouting international maritime convention. Similarly, there have been no serious consequences for Israeli assassination in third countries aided by providing fake passports to intelligence operatives.
If Israel were an (American?) offspring, it would be referred to as a spoilt brat. Israel is immune to international laws and conventions. It can attack and sink US naval vessels, the USS Liberty, and still remain the largest recipient of US aid in the world.
Frankly, one has to admire Israeli policymakers for making the US-Israeli strategic relationship an article of faith for the American government. Israel is the proverbial Holy Cow, untouchable. If the Arabs want peace in Palestine they must devise a new strategy keeping Israel's sacrosanct status in mind.