Saturday 3 December 2016

Justice for dictators? Be sure to read the small print

Robert Fisk

Published 27/08/2011 | 05:00

IT is good to see bad guys behind bars. Especially if they're convicted. Justice is better than revenge. And justice must be done for the relatives of the victims as well as for the dead.

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Part two of the Mubarak trial this month was a case in point. Egyptians want to know exactly who ordered the killing of innocent demonstrators. Who was to blame? And since the buck stops -- or is meant to stop -- at the president's desk, how can Mubarak ultimately escape his just deserts? The same will apply to Gaddafi when -- if? -- we get him.

Ben Ali? Well, he'll stay, presumably, in his Saudi exile -- which is anyway as near as you can get to a death sentence -- since his in absentia trials in Tunis were travesties of justice. Bashar al-Assad? We shall see if we need him or not. Gaddafi? Probably better dead than sent to trial, because he would probably do a Milosevic, mock the court and die in custody. Please note that no tribunals have called for the princes and emirs of the Gulf, or the Plucky Little King of Jordan, or the weird President Bouteflika of Algeria and his henchmen, or the much creepier president of Iran, to be put on trial.

When we decided to keep Hirohito on his Japanese throne, we winnowed down the number of Japanese war criminals to be hanged. Oddly, it was Churchill who wanted the worst of the Nazis to be executed on the spot; it was Stalin who wanted a trial. But then again, Stalin wasn't going to be accused of the mass murder of millions of Soviet citizens, was he?

It all depends, I think, on whether criminals are our friends (Stalin at the time) or our enemies (Hitler), whether they have their future uses (the Japanese emperor) or whether we'll get their wealth more easily if they are out of the way (Saddam and Gaddafi). The last two were or are wanted for killing "their own people" -- a strange expression since it suggests that killing people other than Iraqis or Libyans might not be so bad. In other words, civil war killers are just as likely to end up on the hangman's noose.

Or are they? In Lebanon, for example, things aren't that simple. While America would like to know who planned the bombing of its Beirut marine base in 1983, killing 241 US servicemen, it has no war crime trials planned. Nor do the Lebanese. In fact, two amnesties for killers of the 1975-90 civil war specifically exempt all murderers from trial except those who killed religious or political leaders.

In Bosnia, criminals continue to be sought, although the war had much in common with the Lebanese conflict. Lebanese Christians usually supported the Croats while Arab Muslims naturally sympathised with the Bosnian Muslims. In Lebanon, however, there were official village "reconciliations", attended by Muslim and Christian leaders. Not so in Bosnia.

But justice? As long as the killers are alive -- however long ago their crimes were committed -- justice would seem to be served by punishment. John Demjanjuk's trial in Germany this year is a case in point. Reconciliations and amnesties are a postponement of justice in the hope that the victims' relatives will die off and their descendants will lose interest. Unlikely. Who now remembers the Armenians, Hitler asked? Millions of people, is my reply. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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