Dictators Now Facing Justice
Samson Mulugeta, writing in Newsday (Dec. 29, 2003):
For decades, former dictators' career paths have tended to lead to luxurious retirements, untroubled by trial or punishment. With his arrest this month, though, Iraq 's Saddam Hussein joins a small but growing group: former despots facing justice.
The trend is a new one. Uganda 's Idi Amin had an opulent life of exile in Saudi Arabia for decades until he died in August. Amin's successor, Milton Obote, reportedly lives undisturbed in Zambia .
Nigeria 's Ibrahim Babangida and Guatemala 's Efrain Rios Montt, former military strongmen, kept enough political power to avoid even the bother of exile. Both are influential and untried at home, despite allegations that they engaged in corruption and state-sponsored killing while in office.
But since the end of the Cold War, a number of retired dictators have been hauled into court or jail. The trend has been pushed by U.S.-led military interventions (they ousted Hussein, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic) and by the rise of United Nations-sponsored tribunals, which have tried Milosevic and former rulers of Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
Dictators also are under new threat from the willingness of courts in some countries, including the United States , Spain and Belgium , to hear charges against abusive leaders from other nations.
Independent of U.S. action, other peoples - notably in Africa - have moved more aggressively in recent years to prosecute their deposed autocrats.
In Africa, the former dictator of Chad , Hissene Habre, was comfortably exiled until Senegal agreed in 2001 to hold him for possible extradition to face trial in Belgium . Jean Kambanda, who as prime minister of Rwanda helped lead the 1994 genocide there, was sentenced to life in prison by a UN tribunal in 1998.
The most prominent previous attempt to jail a former dictator has been that against Chile 's Augusto Pinochet. His detention in Britain during 1998 and '99 came at the request of a Spanish judge and marked a growing "internationalization" of such cases. Pinochet was ultimately deemed too ill to stand trial and returned to Chile .
Also in Latin America , Argentines last year charged former military ruler Leopoldo Galtieri with human rights crimes. He died in January under house arrest.
Still, it seems that most deposed despots stay out of court. "Almost a century after the appearance of modern dictators, the world still doesn't have a template of how to handle these people," said historian Benjamin L. Apers, author of "Dictators, Democracy and American Political Culture."
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