Do Governments always use the public’s taxes in lawful and ethical ways? As part of the “New Putney Debates,” a presentation took place by Taxpayers Unite to make the case for tax resistance in the face of the UK continuing involvement in acts of aggression and wars that are unlawful under International Law
(September 11, 2012) — Taxes are part of the Social Contract. We all put money into a common pot and benefit from sharing the services funded in this way: healthcare, education, roads, infrastructure, communications and many more. The conflicting ideologies of the Left and the Right are very much centred on how much should be funded by a State that administers the shared pot – giving access to everyone – or by private contractors for a profit – giving the well off untold advantages.
Defence against an invading force is clearly part of these services, but starting wars that benefit those in power, or the arms dealers, or any other selective interests is not.
In fact all wars of aggression and acts of genocide are illegal under a number of international agreements. Therefore any citizen who pays taxes that fund such actions could be deemed to be an accessory to such crimes. Here is a brief summary of the relevant international legislation.
1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact
This binding multilateral treaty established the legal bases for making unlawful any threat or use of military force as well as the territorial acquisitions resulting from them. It created the notion of crime against peace.
1945 United Nations Charter
Article 2, paragraph 4
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The parties to any dispute . . . likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.
The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.
The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.
1946 Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
. . . waging of aggressive war “essentially an evil thing . . . to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Under Nuremberg Principle IV, “defense of superior orders” is not a defense for war crimes, although it might influence a sentencing authority to lessen the penalty. Nuremberg Principle IV states:
“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
“The very essence of the Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State. He who violates the laws of war cannot obtain immunity while acting in pursuance of the authority of the State . . . “
1947 Nuremberg Principles formulated under UN General Assembly Resolution 177
(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)
1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Art 2 . . . any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Art 3 includes: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.
1970 General Assembly Resolution 2625
On December 14, 1974, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3314, which defined the crime of aggression. This definition is not binding under international law, but it is often cited in opposition to military actions.
This definition makes a distinction between aggression (which “gives rise to international responsibility”) and war of aggression (which is “a crime against international peace”). Acts of aggression are defined as armed invasions or attacks, bombardments, blockades, armed violations of territory, permitting other states to use one’s own territory to perpetrate acts of aggression and the employment of armed irregulars or mercenaries to carry out acts of aggression . . .
The definition’s distinction between an act of aggression and a war of aggression make it clear that not every act of aggression would constitute a crime against peace; only war of aggression does. States would nonetheless be held responsible for acts of aggression.
1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which entered into force in 2002
Defines Crime of aggression as one of the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community”, the crime falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Following years of negotiations aimed at establishing a permanent international tribunal to prosecute individuals accused of genocide and other serious international crimes, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes and the recently defined crimes of aggression, the United Nations General Assembly convened a five-week diplomatic conference in Rome in June 1998 “to finalize and adopt a convention on the establishment of an international criminal court”. On 17 July 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute) was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 countries abstaining. The seven countries that voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, Yemen, and the United States.
At the Kampala Review Conference in 2010 a total of 111 State Parties to the Court agreed by consensus to adopt a resolution accepting the definition of Crime of Aggression and the conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction over this crime.
Funding wars of aggression and genocide: a personal contradiction
“Not in my name”, “not in our name” are frequent slogans in popular demonstrations against war. They point to the personal contradiction felt by citizens who abhor seeing their tax money used to wage wars of aggression, killing children and in general civilians (collateral damage is the dehumanising euphemism) or commit outright genocide.
A brief History of Tax Rebellion: with a little help from Wikipedia
Tax resisters are distinct from tax protesters who deny that the legal obligation to pay taxes exists or applies. Tax resisters may accept that some law commands them to pay taxes but they still choose to resist taxation.
It has been suggested that tax resistance played a significant role in the collapse of several empires, including the Egyptian, Roman, Spanish, and Aztec.
In 411 B.C Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata poses de idea that Greek women could refuse to have sex with their war-mongering husbands until they agreed to stop fighting, combined with an early example of war tax resistance.
Reports of collective tax refusal include Zealots (ancient Judea) resisting the Roman poll tax during the 1st century AD, culminating in the First Jewish–Roman War.
Other historic events that originated as tax revolts include the American Revolution, the French Revolution and Magna Carta: In 1202 King John of England raised taxes to pay for a new war against France. The barons were furious at the waste of money and forced King John to agree a list of promises on 15th June 1215 when Magna Carta was born – one of the most important documents in world history.
The English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was precipitated by King Richard II’s heavy-handed attempts to enforce the third medieval poll tax, first levied in 1377 supposedly to finance military campaigns overseas.
Ship money refers to a tax that Charles I of England tried to levy without the consent of Parliament in coastal towns during a time of war, and it provoked increasing resistance. It was one of the causes of the English Civil War. By 1639, less than 20% of the money demanded was raised which would prove insufficient to finance the king’s military needs. The 1947 Putney Debates arouse in this period of upheaval as one of the first attempts at establishing an Egalitarian and Democratic Constitution for England.
War tax resisters often highlight the relationship between income tax and war. In Britain income tax was introduced in 1799, to pay for weapons and equipment in preparation for the Napoleonic wars, whilst the US federal government imposed their first income tax in the Revenue Act of 1861 to help pay for the American Civil War.
In 1846 Henry David Thoreau refused to pay the annual $1.50 ($36 in 2010 dollars) Massachusetts poll tax levied for the Mexican War. These events were central to his developing ideas of Civil Disobedience.
The Women’s Tax Resistance League (1909–1918) was a direct action group associated with the Women’s Freedom League that used tax resistance to protest the disenfranchisement of women during the British women’s suffrage movement. According to one source: “Tax resistance proved to be the longest-lived form of militancy, and the most difficult to prosecute. More than 220 women, mostly middle-class, participated in tax resistance between 1906 and 1918, some continuing to resist through the First World War, despite a general suspension of militancy.”
Gandhi’s Salt March, also known as the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, and was an important part of the Indian independence movement. It was a direct action campaign of tax resistanceand nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly in colonial India, and triggered the wider Civil Disobedience Movement. Gandhi had received much of his inspiration from Leon Tolstoy who had urged government leaders to change their attitude to war and citizens to taxes.
Pay As You Earn
The growing number of taxpayers during WW2 led to the need for a more efficient tax collection system to fund the war effort, and Pay As You Earn – PAYE – was introduced in 1944 in UK as a result, making income tax resistance much more difficult as tax is not “paid” but “deducted” at source.
In the US a number of Tax resistance movements against the Vietnam War saw Joan Baez and many others refuse to contribute financially to it. The IRS admitted that the number of war tax resisters tripled from 1978 to 1981.
The Peace Tax Seven (United Kingdom), a number of Quakers, Conscience and Peace Tax International campaign for conscientious objection to military taxation. The number of individuals and organisations raising the right to fiscal objection in most countries around the world is too big to detail here, as well as the many historical examples of tax resistance.
Nevertheless Wars continue to flourish in spite of their illegality, war criminals do not face international justice (unless they lose the war) and millions of civilians die in the name of rich countries “interests” (wars to appropriate and control resources).
The need for a concerted joint legal and grassroots effort to make governments comply with International War Law could not be stronger or more urgent.
Silvia Swinden is the author of From Monkey Sapiens to Homo Intentional: The Phenomenology of the Nonviolent Revolution,” Adonis & Abbey, London 2006. Pressenza London Editor