Mark Richman’s commentary (Pinochet’s moral: Never give up) appearing in Monday’s Hatchet is terribly misguided. The moral to be learned from the recent events involving Augusto Pinochet is that heads of state are responsible for acts committed during their tenure.
For this reason, the Pinochet case should resonate with current heads of state. The case only represents one example of many, but demonstrates the difficulty in bringing perpetrators of war crimes, torture and genocide to justice. It baffles me how Richman can say that it is better to let strongmen step down peacefully in order to ensure transitions to democracy with less bloodshed. Instances of dictatorial leaders stepping down in favor of peaceful transitions to democracy are rare. The way that these leaders maintain power is by using brutal means to reduce opposition.
How is it that not holding these leaders accountable for their actions will cause a decrease in the bloodshed? It was not so long ago that the world stood idle, foolishly thinking that the appeasement of Adolf Hitler would quell the expansionist desire of Germany. At the same time, needing Stalin’s support, the U.S. turned a blind eye as he massacred millions opposed to him and supported Yugoslavia’s brutal leader Tito during the Cold War. International law has developed greatly in the last 50 years, and the overwhelming trend is that no matter the circumstance, heads of state will be held responsible for their acts. To spout the rhetoric of immunity is no longer an option.
This developing trend is evidenced by the renewed successes of the international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice in recent months. The still-developing International Criminal Court would expand upon the lessons learned in these tribunals, making international arrest warrants available and prosecuting those who commit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. These courts are based on what is known as the principle of universality. This gives global jurisdiction when addressing perpetrators of these heinous acts; however, the biggest problem facing the international legal community is the capture of those suspected. As shown by the Pinochet case, this incredibly difficult task is not impossible.
Contrary to Richman’s beliefs, the current state of international law is effective in dealing with authoritarian regimes. While it is far-fetched to believe that humanitarian violations and shameful actions can be mitigated by merely holding the leaders of countries responsible, assistance in the form of international pressure from governments and non-governmental organizations, diplomacy and economic sanctions serve to compromise the positions of these leaders. By creating an environment of personal responsibility, leaders are constantly reminded of the ramifications of their actions in the international community. Dictators can no longer get off the hook for the crimes they committed while they were in power. No matter who they are or where they are, they stand the chance of being tried for their crimes.
While these methods alone may not curb the atrocities committed against those living under a dictatorial regime, they take a gigantic leap forward in providing justice should these acts occur and will most certainly not result in increased violence as leaders seek to maintain their hold on power.
As for Pinochet, the news following his release has left me livid. The former general appeared rather exuberant and energetic after his return to Chile. His supporters met him with a hero’s welcome, and he did not appear to be a man unfit to stand trial because of brain damage and crippling diabetes. In fact, the reason why he traveled to the United Kingdom was for a simple back surgery. On top of it all, London’s Sunday Times reported that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave Pinochet the silver plate originally created to celebrate Sir Francis Drake’s victory over the Spanish fleet. The symbolism of the defeat of the Spanish is self-evident, but Thatcher included a note that read, Your return to Chile has ensured that Spain’s attempts to impose judicial colonialism have been firmly rebuffed.
My friends, how in the world can anyone consider an attempt to prosecute the actions of a vicious dictator to be judicial colonialism? Perhaps the jury is still out, but it is my hope that current trends in international law will continue and that they will be effective in bringing the supporters of heinous acts to justice.
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs.