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The Pinochet Principle | The Nation

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The Pinochet Principle

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§ Hissein Habre ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990 with US and French military support, murdering and torturing thousands before his overthrow and flight to Senegal. Earlier this month the Senegalese government indicted Habre and placed him under house arrest in response to a complaint filed by his Chadian victims and several human rights organizations alleging murder, disappearance and torture. According to Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, one of the plaintiff groups, "The Pinochet case helped a lot. It was only after the Pinochet decision that we felt this was a real possibility."

About the Author

Roane Carey
Roane Carey
Roane Carey, managing editor at The Nation, was the editor of The New Intifada (Verso) and, with Jonathan Shainin, The...

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In his very first Nation dispatch, Graham reported from the territories on Arafat’s plummeting popularity and human rights abuses, as well as his shameful concessions in the Cairo security accords.

Two brilliant nominees, The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras, along with other recent documentaries, have deepened our understanding of the conflict.

§ Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, slaughtered hundreds of thousands with baroque ferocity and summarily expelled tens of thousands of East Indians, uprooting an entire ethnic community that had deep roots in the country. He now lives a princely existence in a marble villa in Saudi Arabia, where the government has furnished him with cars, drivers and other sundries.

§ Mengistu Haile Mariam seized power in Ethiopia after the 1974 overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Mengistu, a Soviet client during most of his rule, killed and tortured thousands before he was overthrown in 1991, when he fled to Zimbabwe. The Ethiopian government has sought his return, so far to no avail. It also sought his extradition from South Africa recently when Mengistu traveled there for medical treatment, but the South African government rejected the request.

§ In a precedent-setting decision on January 24, the US Supreme Court denied an appeal from Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor from Rwanda, who is fighting transfer from the United States to the international criminal tribunal in Tanzania for his role in the massacre of several hundred Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ntakirutimana, who was defended by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, had fled to Texas to avoid arrest in Rwanda. If the deportation succeeds, it would be the first such expulsion to a current war crimes tribunal by the United States.

§ When he was defense minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon planned and led the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, during which he ordered the saturation bombing of heavily populated West Beirut, killing and maiming thousands of civilians with phosphorus and cluster bombs. Sharon then allowed the Lebanese Phalangist militia to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, where they murdered up to 2,000 people when the camps were under tight Israeli Army control. (Amos Yaron, the general who held operational command of the Israeli Army in West Beirut and who observed the Phalangist operation through binoculars from a nearby rooftop, has recently been named Director General of the Defense Ministry by Prime Minister Ehud Barak.) Sharon is now head of Israel's opposition Likud Party.

§ Indonesia's Suharto, who finally left power in 1998 after thirty-two years of dictatorship, is living in Jakarta in very bad health and is said to be fearful of traveling to Europe for medical care because he might be subject to the Pinochet treatment. After he seized power in 1965-66, Suharto oversaw the massacre of some half a million Indonesians in an anti-Communist witch hunt. In 1975 he ordered the invasion of East Timor, after which about 200,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian armed forces--equipped and trained by the US government under both Democratic and Republican administrations--before Indonesia finally withdrew from the country this past fall.

§ Henry Kissinger was never a dictator--of the United States. But given that he was a chief architect of Richard Nixon's murderous escalation of the war in Southeast Asia, during which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians were killed, and that he helped engineer Salvador Allende's overthrow by Pinochet in 1973 and gave US endorsement to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, Kissinger ranks with the dictators and war criminals on this list. He lives in elegance on Manhattan's East Side, traveling the world lecture circuit with the gravitas befitting a great diplomat.

In contrast with the deplorable record of the US government, US human rights organizations have been in the forefront in pursuing war criminals. The Center for Constitutional Rights has used the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act and the 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act to win millions in civil damages against foreigners living in the United States who are guilty of crimes that render the perpetrator hostis humani generis, an "enemy of all mankind." In one of the most important of these rulings, in two civil suits against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held that a "private actor" can be liable for violations of international humanitarian law and that this is applicable even if the entity he represents--in this case the Republika Srpska--is not generally recognized as a state. The San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability has brought three cases in US courts, and after the Pinochet arrest, Human Rights Watch set up an international justice initiative under advocacy director Brody to press for the extradition and prosecution of former dictators and war criminals.

The rapid pace of marketplace globalization, in which the power of national governments has been increasingly weakened, makes judicial globalization inevitable. The new International Criminal Court is a notable example of this trend. But justice will be served only if all human rights abusers--those who give the orders and their accomplices as well as those who carry out the crimes--are held accountable, and if the citizens of all nations, including the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, are judged by the same standards. The arrest of Pinochet, who until last year was thought to be immune to prosecution, is a magnificent advance in that direction.

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