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.
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.
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.