A court to arrest dictators
before the damage is done
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
April 26, 2011
“Too little too late”. It’s as true of Muammar Gadhaffi as it was of Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot. The problem always has been not lack of early warning but lack of early action.
We have known, literally for decades, that Gadhaffi ran an intolerably repressive and amoral regime. But by sheer dint of determination and perseverance he climbed out of the pit he had dug for himself when exploding the Pan Am flight over Scotland and a French airliner over Africa, and the almost successful construction of a nuclear weapon- and reinstalled himself in the good books of the West.
The US and the UK armed Saddam in Iraq’s war against Iran even though Amnesty International had already reported he tortured the children of his domestic enemies and rivals.
The former secretary-general of Amnesty, Pierre Sane, wrote, “We fear now that our pleas for action on other countries are similarly being downplayed. When some human rights catastrophe explodes, will we again be expected to see only military intervention as the option? If government decisions to intervene are motivated by the quest for justice, why do they allow situations to deteriorate to such unspeakable injustice?”
Why should we be forced to choose between two types of failure- inaction or military intervention- when the successful course of action is known- prevention? Prevention work may be less newsworthy and more difficult to justify to the public than intervention in a time of crisis. It requires the sustained investment of significant resources without the emotive images of hardship, violence and suffering.
Fortunately, we are making some progress- namely the creation of the International Criminal Court and before that the UN courts for ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. This is pre-emption by messaging into the future. If you don’t want to end up in the dock then make sure the dictatorship you run or the conflict you preside over is not torturing and murdering civilians and breaking the world’s accepted laws on human rights.
So far these courts have had arraigned before them such diverse figures as Slobodan Milosevic, the one time president of ex-Yugoslavia, two Croatian generals from the same war and a number of African warlords. Admittedly the penny has not dropped with Gadhaffi. Neither did it drop with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Ben Ali of Tunisia. But once the ICC has a significant number of scalps under its belt it is reasonable to suppose its example in time will have a deterrent effect. Indeed, we don’t know who it has deterred already.
Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, has taken the argument a step further. “A potentially powerful alternative at the UN’s disposal is to draw on the existing body of international criminal law to secure the indictment, through an independent judicial process, of particular individuals who threaten global peace and security and then issue a warrant for their arrest”, she wrote in the International Herald Tribune in November, 2003.
She argues, to take one example, that instead of debating a decade of sanctions and ultimately the deployment of military force, the UN Security Council could have authorized an international prosecutor to investigate Saddam’s war crimes.
Once an indictment is made, an international or national force should be authorized by the Security Council to arrest him (always a him). If he resists, the arresting authorities would be authorized to use force. It might take some guile and the use of special forces to snatch him. Unless the dictator chooses to remain hold up in a bunker for months on end it is eminently possible and can be done using minimal force.
This is far better than what happened in Iraq. Killing innocents to save innocents is an unacceptable choice.
As for so called “non-state actors” like Osama bin Laden, there was enough evidence to arrest him when he was resident in Sudan. Indeed, the Sudanese authorities offered to detain him and hand him over to the US authorities. The Clinton White House decided not to request this. Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, later told the Washington Post that there were doubts about winning a conviction in an American court. Moreover, the Americans thought it would be more expedient if Sudan handed him over to the courts in his homeland, Saudi Arabia, where justice was faster and the death penalty was certain. While the White House prevaricated bin Laden fled to the mountains of Afghanistan.
If there had been a UN prosecutor able to take pre-emptive action it would have all been much simpler. The Security Council would have authorized the prosecutor to act and the deed could have been done.
The position of an international prosecutor should be put on the Security Council’s agenda this year whilst the Arab revolt is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
© Jonathan Power 2011
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan
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hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.
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