Acts of neighborly diplomacy

An African court for the first time convicts a former African despot. Latin America tries to mediate in Venezuela. Southeast Asia seeks a code of conduct in its disputed waters. Regions, and their neighborliness, still matter in this globalized era.

AP Photo
Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre raises his hand during court proceedings in Dakar, Senegal, May 30. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam declared Habre guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.

Neighbors often watch out for each other but sometimes so do countries that share the same corner of the globe. On Monday, the 54-member African Union achieved a first in its neighborhood. A special court backed by the AU found a former leader of an African country guilty on a range of human rights abuses. He was handed a life sentence.

The three-judge court, known as the African Extraordinary Chambers, was set up in Senegal and convicted Hissène Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. The verdict not only shows the AU “does not condone impunity and human rights violations,” said its chief, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but it also further “reinforces the AU’s principle of African solutions to African problems.” Many human rights activists hope the AU will now set up a permanent forum for justice to deal with other dictators and warlords on the continent.

Africa is not the only region with a “neighborhood watch.”

In Latin America, the head of the 34-member Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called an emergency meeting of the regional governments on Tuesday to evaluate whether Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has violated the OAS’s charter by suppressing democracy. The embattled president has jailed political opponents and blocked legislation from the opposition-controlled Congress. An OAS intervention appears unlikely for now. In the meantime, the group backs an attempt by Panama, Spain, and the Dominican Republic to mediate between Mr. Maduro and the opposition.

In Asia, meanwhile, China’s forceful taking of islets in the South China Sea has pushed the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations to further pursue negotiations for a “code of conduct” – or rules on how to resolve competing claims for the islands in the region. Some ASEAN members back a case brought against China by the Philippines in an international tribunal in The Hague.

The world’s strongest regional body, the European Union, has two, maybe three, “rescue” cases on its docket. The EU is still trying to prop up Greece’s economy after a 2009 financial crisis. It is supporting Ukraine in its struggles with Russia. And it is quietly supporting those in Britain who want that country to remain in the EU. A June 23 referendum in Britain will decide the issue.

In an era of globalization and a world with dozens of international bodies, nations in proximity to each other and that may share a similar history still count for something. These regional bodies often act on universal values, such as justice for an African despot who commits heinous crimes. But neighbors sometimes simply need to keep the ’hood in shape for common interests, or just to be neighborly.

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