Thursday, July 31, 2008

Really big news about global justice

The last few weeks seem to indicate that international courts are getting some teeth, or, at least, are teething ...
► First, the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, gets Belgium to arrest Jean-Pierre Bemba, the loser in the 2006 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo and head of one of the more infamous militias in that country. Perhaps to avoid charges of political meddling in DRC politics, Bemba has been charged at the ICC (left) not with crimes at home, but with involvement in mass rapes in the next-door Central African Republic.
► Then the ICC Prosecutor really gets serious, issuing an indictment for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. (IntLawGrrls posts below, here, here, and here.) That should take some of the wind out of the sails of those ICC skeptics who pointedly asked why, after a nearly 3-year investigation, the ICC had managed only the indictments of a mid-level militia commander and a single Sudanese minister. They asked: Was the Prosecutor focusing just on non-state actors rather than powerful state figures? The Al-Bashir indictment is Moreno-Ocampo’s answer. But it leads to another question: Will the U.N. Security Council use the leverage Moreno-Ocampo has given it to push for real concessions from the Sudanese government, or will it squander the chance?
► Finally, Radovan Karadžić has come in from the cold; he's due to appear in court at The Hague today. (Prior IntLawGrrls post here.) The onetime self-proclaimed president of the Bosnian Serb Republic was arrested by his erstwhile Serbian ex-backers. They are now apparently more interested in securing for Serbia a place in the European Union than in thumbing their nose at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (right).
So far, so good. But it is still true that prosecutions by international courts of high-ranking military and government officials remain few and far between.
The really interesting story is the rise in national-level prosecutions of such officials:
► In the same few weeks, Alberto Fujimori (on whose extradition IntLawGrrls posted here) continued to stand trial in Peru, with military officers confirming that the former president indeed knew of the killings carried out in the name of combating subversion. Fujimori, like Slobodan Milosevic, had delayed the proceedings due to ill-health, but trial is now scheduled to be completed by the fall.
► Then, Argentine courts convicted the Butcher of Córdoba, Benjamín Meléndez, of orchestrating killings and secret death camps during the 1976-83 dictatorship. Since the country’s Supreme Court annulled prior amnesty laws, courts have convicted a number of the top military and police officials, and even a military priest accused of abetting torture. Trials continue throughout the country.
► Next door in Chile, the head of the secret police and his henchmen were convicted of blowing up General Carlos Prats, the former army head, and his wife, in a 1974 bombing in Buenos Aires. And that’s just on one continent. (credit for Chilean Supreme Court photo below left)
Indeed, according to a soon-to-be-published book on trying heads of state, edited by Ellen Lutz and Caitlin Reiger, since 1990, no fewer than 57 heads of state from around the globe have been indicted, at a minimum, for misconduct while in office. True, about half these are corruption cases, not violations of human rights or humanitarian law. True as well, in far fewer cases do the indictments turn into trials and convictions, and fewer still result in actual prison stints. Nonetheless, there is clearly a trend, and it points to the diffuse – but key – influence of the new architecture of international justice on national judges and courts.
That’s the really big news.

1 comment:

Kevin Jon Heller said...


Great post! I would take issue, however, with the idea that Bashir's indictment indicates Moreno-Ocampo is no longer focusing solely on non-state actors. When he indicts a government official via a self-referral or through his proprio motu powers, I'll be on board. But I hardly think indicting Bashir, though brave and necessary, demonstrates a new-found interest in state actors -- after all, everyone in the world knows that the object of the Security Council's referral is the Sudanese government, not the various rebel groups. So Moreno-Ocampo had little choice but to go after government officials. Indeed, his obsession with rebels continues unabated -- just last week he promised to go after Darfuri rebels next!