Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Know Their Names

Left:The courtroom at the International Criminal Court.

Prosecuting war criminals is a frustrating affair. Appropriate laws are in place, but without mechanisms to enforce them they are meaningless. Domestic law is enforced by the state, but in questions of foreign policy states are driven by interests, not principles. They will assemble international tribunals, but only to judge weak and defeated enemies.

So, while the docks at the International Criminal Court are filled with petty African thugs, most war criminals are never held to account, in spite of a strong legal case. Taking that position to an extreme, the U.S has even pledged to intervene militarily to protect any American war criminal facing a prosecutor in the Hague. The value of these selective prosecutions to the human rights movement is minimal, but the fear they create among third world military leaders, who know political conditions and their aurora of immunity could easily change, is real.

That fear has been gnawing at the minds of many high officials, particularly after the London arrest of Gen. Augosto Pinochet, an American ally once considered untouchable

Even if the possibility of prosecution is remote the fear is real. Political realities will change, and with them so will legal ones, those who are untouchable today could end up on trial tomorrow. When justice cannot be implemented the fear of justice must fill the void.

Every arrest of a western war criminal in a western nation helps lift the veil of impunity. Every indictment is a victory, every arrest is a greater one. Western is an important qualification. Prosecutions of official enemies will produce more convictions, as well as an orgy of hypocritical self-congratulation, but they will be colored by their political context, doing nothing to advance human rights. Prosecutions of criminals from friendly nations will discourage future violations. A young officer in a combat zone will hesitate before ordering atrocities if he knows he will face the possibility of arrest for the rest of his life.

Towards this end western human rights activists need to begin compiling sealed lists of suspected criminals accompanies by legal evidence to support their prosecution. The travel of individuals on the list can then be monitored and information can be released as opportunities for arrest occur. This will do much to temper the actions of battlefield commanders. Those involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity will be troubled, uncertain if they are being targeted for future prosecution, they will face the choice of accepting a de facto travel ban, a small penalty in itself, or risk arrest and prosecution abroad.

1 comment:

Don Emmerich Jr. said...

You make some excellent points here.