Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Retirement options narrow for dictators

Maybe Egypt's 82-year old Hosni Mubarak is sticking around despite his people's protests because retirement for used-up dictators just isn't what it used to be.

Since Jimmy Carter made the major mistake of letting the deposed Shah of Iran into the US in 1979 for cancer treatment, the US has stopped taking in cast-off potentates.

Other countries usually just don't want the bother of taking in these guys. Deposed dictators often face legal assaults from the people they've wronged. What country wants to bring that down on themselves?

Besides the little problem about where to settle, there are sometimes problems about money. Dictators loot their countries and they used to be able to live in security and great comfort on their stolen wealth when they went into exile. But that's gotten more difficult. Mubarak is looking at a scary example. When Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country earlier this year, the new Tunisian government issued warrants against him and the European Union froze his bank accounts. I'm sure he had plenty squirreled away they haven't found yet, but the international banking system has become much more cooperative with international policing than in the past. London courts in particular have pioneered a global account freezing legal order with real teeth.

There's even the remote possibility that dictators who are human rights abusers (and which are not?) might find themselves before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. So far the relatively new court has been more apt to move against repulsive African monsters -- and Slobadan Milosevic of Serbia whose atrocities embarrassed Europe. But no dictator can be sure this international legal system might not someday catch him in its sights.

Rumors that Mubarak is trying to overcome these hurdles have leaked out. Der Spiegel reported that he was considering a dash to a Baden-Baden cancer treatment facility. Or maybe that's just a feint.

Meanwhile, the Guardian in London is looking for Mubarak's money.

According to a report last year in the Arabic newspaper Al Khabar, Mubarak has properties in Manhattan and exclusive Beverly Hills addresses on Rodeo Drive.

His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal's ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family's appetite for western trophy assets.

Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at Princeton University, said the estimate of $40bn-70bn was comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.

"The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth," she told ABC news. "There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain.

"This is the pattern of other Middle Eastern dictators so their wealth will not be taken during a transition. These leaders plan on this."

But, ever so slowly, an international regime of the rule of law is ensnaring these rulers who abuse internationally recognized human rights and their own countries.
It was nice to see that the emerging international human rights regime apparently inconvenienced our own prominent war criminal over the weekend. Former President George W. Bush has admitted sanctioning what is unequivocally considered torture, a crime under the Convention Against Torture which the United States has signed. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) were prepared to present legal arguments for Bush's indictment in Switzerland when he arrived for a speaking gig. He skipped the event. The dude is going to have to be careful where he travels in the future.

There's a pattern in all of this. Bringing torturers to justice takes time. The project can feel futile. But there is more and more of an international framework within which they can be brought to some kind of justice. That's small consolation for their victims, but good for all of us going forward.

This post takes off from an article by human rights lawyer Scott Horton in Foreign Policy.


Kay Dennison said...


Obviously, you are feeling a bit better of not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we say here in the heartland and I'm glad.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Kay. The medical folks are now calling this an ear infection. My ear hurts, but antibiotics usually work.

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