Thursday, May 31, 2012

War crimes: Charles Taylor now, Bashar al-Assad next

Justice has a momentum, and as Liberia's ex-leader is jailed, he's certain to be followed by other despots

Geoffrey Robertson, Wednesday 30 May 2012

".....Nuremberg created a precedent, but it was not until Augusto Pinochet came to London in 1998 to take tea with Mrs Thatcher that the idea of ending the impunity of political and military leaders seemed possible. In those days it was bitterly controversial: the pope, Henry Kissinger, George Bush Snr, and even Fidel Castro wrote to Jack Straw demanding that he be freed. But today there are no such efforts on behalf of Taylor: international justice is here to stay.

That does not mean it should be welcomed uncritically, or that its principal defect should be overlooked – namely it does not in practice apply to the "big five" powers in the security council, or to their close friends (hence Syria's Bashar al-Assad has thus far escaped indictment because Russia supports him). But justice has its own momentum, and this selectivity will change. The importance of the Taylor decision, for example, is that it creates a precedent for prosecuting those who "aid and abet" by sending assistance to brutal factions in a civil war. President Ronald Reagan's conduct in arming the Nicaraguan Contras, if it occurred again, would be seen as comparable to the conduct for which Taylor was convicted......."

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