Arab uprising: What to do with dictators?
Immunity or prosecution for the dictators of Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya? Trends favor prosecution, but it must be justly carried out.
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So far, neither Mr. Saleh nor Mr. Qaddafi are budging. They may fondly wish for the days when Uganda’s Idi Amin lived a life of exile undisturbed in Saudi Arabia, or when East Europe was kind to many of its ex-communist dictators (not to Romania’s ruling Ceausescu couple, who were executed). But these two Arab holdouts are probably much more aware that in recent years, the trend with former dictators has favored prosecution.Skip to next paragraph
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Since 1990, according to the 2009 book “Prosecuting Heads of State,” 67 former heads of state or government have been prosecuted for serious human rights or financial crimes. It’s a meteoric rise, the book claims, pointing to such high-profile cases as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, and Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
The trend toward prosecution is a healthy one. It marches in the direction of international law, which requires governments to investigate human rights violations and compensate victims.
Several strongmen who have sought refuge in immunity or exile have not been able to outrun justice. In Argentina, for example, former military dictators from the “dirty war” of 1973-86 were brought to trial this year for a plot to steal babies from political prisoners.
Prosecution of former dictators, however, must not mimic the very injustices of their regimes. Any trial of Mr. Mubarak, for instance, should wait until after Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections later this year when the nondemocratic transitional rule by the military will be over.
Time is not necessarily what the masses want when it comes to justice and retribution. But even those who trample on justice still deserve it.