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03 April 2008

Mugabe's Exile Poker -- but now there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide / old ex-dictators being busted and dragged to public criminal trials

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, a defendant in the dock at his trial for war crimes in the Hague, Netherlands. (Associated Press photo.)

Zimbabwe's government elections authority has slowly released enough election results to show that the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) opposition party has captured control of parliament.

But the elections authority still has not released any results about the presidential vote. No one yet knows if the voters of Zimbabwe resoundly ended the 28-year autocratic rule of Robert Mugabe.

Lacking any official vote results in the presidential race, media rumors abound that Mugabe is trying to negotiate a safe exile, using his remaining command of police and military as a threatening bargaining chip in exchange for an exile deal he can live with. One rumor has him already checked into a luxury hotel in suburban Johannesburg, in Zimbabwe's neighbor to the south, South Africa.

What's taking him so long
to accept the inevitable, hop a plane, and leave Zimbabwe forever?

This may be what's taking him so long. The world and its traditionally generous and comfortable rules about dictators has changed.

Dictators and war criminals in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans no longer can be guaranteed a quiet, peaceful, comfortable retirement when they flee or agree to step down. Increasingly, the norm is arrest, extradition, and a public war crimes trial in full view of the world's media, typically in the Hague, Netherlands.

There's almost nowhere to run and hide anymore. Nearly every nation on Earth which might be willing to host a fugitive dictator or war criminal is under increasingly effective pressure from the world community to surrender notorious fugitives, or face harsh and economically severe reprisals -- a shut-down of trade and access to development funds and credit from the North American and Western European wealth centers. Giving safe haven to an ex-dictator can cost a dictator-friendly nation billions of dollars, and stand as an obstacle to the diplomatic and economic progress the host nation badly wants and needs.

Mugabe is holding out for an iron-clad guarantee of immunity from any criminal charges and potential public trial, and threatening to unleash violence on Zimbabwe if he doesn't get it.

And even foreign governments sympathetic and friendly to him can't offer him any such iron-clad promise. The longer he stays a guest, the more the hospitality will cost the host. The international diplomatic community has routinely made this kind of hospitality much too financially and diplomatically expensive. This is a guest who drinks heavily, smokes in bed, and could burn down the host's house.

Just as Mugabe plays his last hand of Exile Poker, the trial of former Liberian dictator and strongman Charles Taylor has resumed in the Hague. This is what Mugabe knows he has to look forward to. He can't leave Zimbabwe, and no other country can protect him.

After the Charles Taylor trial story, there's an overview of how tough it's become to be an old ex-dictator, from The Economist.


ABC News (USA commercial TV network)
Monday 31 March 2008

Taylor Trial Resumes Today
Last Episode: Gruesome Accounts of Taylor-Ordered Cannibalism

by Anna Schecter

Charles Taylor, warlord and former president of Liberia, ordered his militias to eat the flesh of captured enemies and United Nations soldiers, according to the testimony of a former militia commander at Taylor's war crimes trial. The trial resumes today after a two-week recess.

"[We] throw your head away, your intestines, we take it and put it in a pot and cook it and eat it," explained Joseph "Zigzag" Marzah, who claimed to be one of Taylor's inner circle and ate the organs of enemies together with Taylor.

Marzah said Taylor instructed his men to eat the flesh of captured enemies and U.N. soldiers. He also described slitting open the belly of pregnant women with pen knives, burying a pregnant woman alive and displaying decapitated human heads on the bumpers of cars all on Taylor's orders. "We executed everybody -- babies, women, old men. There were so many executions, I can't remember them all," said Marzah.

Taylor's lead counsel Courtenay Griffiths Q.C. told ABC News that Marzah's testimony should be thrown out. "Marzah repeatedly left the room to send and receive text messages on his mobile phone during the testimony. He is not credible," he said.

Taylor, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, is charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone during the country's roughly 10-year conflict that officially ended in 2002.

The case is being tried at The Hague instead of in Sierra Leone to reduce chances of sparking unrest in the west African state or in neighboring Liberia.

Prosecutors have accused Taylor of murdering and mutilating civilians, including cutting off their limbs, using women and girls as sex slaves, abducting adults and children, and forcing them to perform forced labor or become fighters to further his economic and political ambitions in the region.

Taylor, the first former African head of state to appear before an international war crimes tribunal, has denied all of the 11 charges against him.

Griffiths told ABC News that Taylor is confident he will win the case. "He is fine and is up for the fight. He is very pleased with how the trial is going," said Griffiths. "The prosecutors thought they would have an easy time, but they are not," he said.

Human rights activists say that Taylor was directly involved in the atrocities that occurred in Sierra Leone even though Taylor has asserted that he was not.

"All evidence points to his direct involvement. There are thousands of witnesses," said Ian Smillie, research director for the nonprofit research organization Partnership Africa Canada. Smillie was an expert witness in Taylor's trial who testified that Taylor plundered millions of dollars in blood diamonds (diamonds exchanged for arms) in order to fund his militias.

Prosecutors said they have launched an investigation to locate the fortune Taylor made from Sierra Leone's diamonds that they say Taylor is hiding.

Smillie said that investigation will be difficult to crack. "Criminals don't keep records. There is no receipt book. He didn't give orders on camera," he said.

Taylor has denied pillaging or hiding any cash.

The war crimes trial began in June of 2007, but Taylor "boycotted" the opening because he said his counsel lacked the resources to properly defend him. The trial was halted for seven months and resumed in January 2008. Griffiths said he expects it to last 18 months.

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Copyright © 2008 ABCNews Internet Ventures

8 Comments | Add Yours

The brutality in Africa must be addressed. Time to put blame aside and look for solutions.Responsibility therapy is the path.
Posted by:
Susan Denver Apr-1

Have him "drawn and quartered"...... on national tv.
Posted by:
art_m_nv Apr-1

I hope they Hang the SOB
Posted by:
RevGregoryH Apr-1

I blame it on lack of love from his parents, and not enough foreign aid from usa to his country
Posted by:
rugby4u2 Mar-31

I wonder how many of you know that he started this war in Liberia after he "escaped" from a prison in Massachusetts, USA!!! Sounds CIAish to me. How do you escape Massacusetts and wind up armed and ready in the jungle of Liberia????? I doubt any of these stories are without exageration, but I do know Charles Taylor made a deal with the devil and now will pay with his soul!!!!! Believe it or not yall, this has an al Qa'eda connection too!! Did you know that Charles Taylor is a Baptist, and a whole lota crusaders got those Sierra Leone diamonds too!! WAKE UP AMERICA --- TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!!!!
Posted by:
carolynbrown49 Mar-31

I usually have plenty to say but this is just sick!!
Posted by:
WvLady67 Mar-31

Really shows the challenges of economic development in Africa.
Posted by:
dovzigler Mar-31

what makes me angry is that this animal will have free health coverage, free meals, free TV/movies, free Internet and a warm bed for the rest of his life while we struggle to pay our way out of a war debt, climbing health insurance rates and working past retirement. We need to bring back water, carrots and HARD LABOR in prison!!
Posted by:
couplewords Mar-31


The Economist (news magazine UK)
10 January 2008

Charles Taylor in the dock
Bringing bigwigs to justice

Heads of state, past and present, are increasingly being brought to book for crimes committed while in office

WHEN Charles Taylor, then president of Liberia, was charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities in June 2003, few thought he would be captured, let alone ever brought to justice. But this week, four and a half years after his indictment, his trial proper at last began in The Hague. Mr Taylor, now aged 59, is the first former African head of state to face an international war-crimes court.

Just a few years ago, such an event would have been almost inconceivable. However brutal or corrupt, Africa's leaders used to shield one another from justice for fear that their turn could come next. But the remarkable spread of international justice over the past decade has brought about an equally remarkable change in attitudes towards prosecuting former heads of state, not just in Africa but throughout the world. No fewer than ten former presidents and military dictators are facing legal proceedings for human-rights offences and/or corruption, some in international tribunals, others in their own domestic courts, a few in other countries' courts.

In Peru, ex-President Alberto Fujimori is on trial for human-rights violations and fraud. He has already been sentenced to six years in jail for abuse of power. In Cambodia, Khieu Samphan, president from 1976 to 1979, is in jail awaiting his turn before a new UN-backed tribunal set up to try Khmer Rouge leaders. And in Senegal, Hissène Habré, ex-president of Chad, is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity before a special court being set up in Dakar.

Meanwhile, General Suharto, Indonesia's former dictator, aged 86, has once again been rushed to hospital in the midst of legal proceedings for graft.

[Suharto died on 27 January 2008.]

Previous moves to prosecute him — he is alleged to have embezzled $1,540,000,000 during his 32-year reign — have failed on grounds of ill health. But he may have cried wolf too often. Despite the general's reported “critical” condition, Indonesia's attorney-general vowed to press ahead regardless with civil proceedings against him.

Until recently, heads of state and government, past or present, were commonly seen as immune from prosecution for acts, however vile, performed as part of their official functions. But in a landmark decision in 1999 involving Augusto Pinochet, Chile's ex-dictator, Britain's law lords ruled that there could be no immunity for certain international crimes such as torture, and that Pinochet could therefore be extradited to Spain.

The fact that the octogenarian was never extradited, being allowed to return to Chile instead because of ill health, did not matter. A taboo had been broken. A previously hesitant Chile then brought its own charges against the ex-president. Although Pinochet died (in December 2006) before his trial began, the floodgates had been opened. Others now felt free to pursue their own tyrants.

In Latin America, home to many odious military regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, charges have been brought — mostly for crimes against humanity—against half a dozen former rulers. In Suriname, the trial is about to begin of ex-dictator Desi Bouterse, for his role in the summary execution of 15 political opponents in 1982. In Uruguay, another former ruler, Juan María Bordaberry, is about to be tried on charges relating to murders and “disappearances” in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, in Spain, María Estela Perón, who succeeded her husband as Argentina's president in 1974, is awaiting the outcome of two extradition requests from Argentina on charges relating to the killing of hundreds of left-wing militants by government-backed execution squads.

She hopes the Spanish courts will adopt the same position as Guatemala's Constitutional Court, which last month ruled against the extradition to Spain of Efraín Ríos Montt, a former Guatemalan dictator, on charges of genocide. Mexico's ex-president, Luis Echeverría, may also have been let off the hook after charges relating to the killing of student protesters, in 1968 and thereafter, were dismissed in July by a Mexican court for falling outside a statute of limitations. For most international crimes, there is no time limit.

Manuel Noriega, a former Panamanian despot, is likely to be less lucky. After completing a 17-year sentence in America for drug-smuggling in September, he began fighting an extradition request by France, where he has already been sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for money-laundering. On January 9th a Florida judge rejected his appeal against extradition. He will now probably face a retrial.

Sometimes a country may, of course, be unwilling or unable to prosecute its own leaders. In such cases, an international tribunal, like the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying Charles Taylor (in a courtroom loaned from the International Criminal Court in The Hague), may step in. All five international tribunals set up over the past 15 years explicitly exclude immunity (or amnesty) for heads of state charged with war crimes or other atrocities. Mr Taylor is only the second serving head of state to be charged with war crimes after Slobodan Milosevic. Like Pinochet, the Serb tyrant escaped jail by death — in 2006.

If no competent international tribunal can be found, a country unconnected with the case may decide to bring a prosecution in its national courts under the principle of “universal jurisdiction.” This allows a country to try the perpetrator of a serious international crime even if neither he nor his victims are nationals and the crime has not been committed on its soil. At least eight European countries have adopted the principle. It was invoked by Britain in the Pinochet case, and also by Belgium to prosecute Mr Habré — until the African Union was shamed into asking Senegal, his country of exile, to try him instead.

Exile, once the choice of many a deposed tyrant, no longer seems so safe. When Mr Taylor was handed over in 2006 to Sierra Leone's Special Court by Nigeria, where he had taken refuge in 2003, Libya's president, Muammar Qaddafi, noted nervously that a precedent had been set. “This means that every head of state could meet a similar fate,” he said. Quite so.

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autoglaze said...

Robert Mugabwe is a murderer and should be tried accordanly.What has happened to human rights ?? Are they afraid that the rest of the African States will boycot them with resourses.
Wake up and see the people in Zimbabwe starving and scared for their life.
The time to arrest this man is now and not hide behind international laws.
Iain Gunn

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hi Iain Gunn --

grrrr no link or addie, but a little Googling, and if you're not the Iain Gunn who makes giant puppets in British Columbia, you stand an excellent chance to be an academic specialist in post-Colonial African history and government. You're all over a bunch of academic journals that demand $$$ from me if I want to read more.

I enjoyed reading about Nnamdi Azikiwe. In a nasty history of chiefs of state around the world, ALWAYS TRUST A FORMER NEWSPAPERMAN OR NOVELIST to guide a nation responsibly and ethically into independence and dignity.

(i.e., Vote For Me!)

So like Iain ... where the heck are you, who the heck are you? I'm guessing you're in South Africa.

Everybody's wondering what's taking so long for Mugabe to jump on a plane and vanish. That's when the lightbulb went on in my head and I realized that he can't leave. The World Has Changed, bigtime, and if he leaves, all he has to look forward to is a prison cell in the Hague.

Idi Amin Dada just might have been the last of the old-style psycho dictators who escaped to a safe old age protected by a friendly host nation (Saudi Arabia).

The time to arrest this man is now, but The Economist's survey of these freakazoids suggest that there'll be a delay of months, years or even decades while he hopscotches from temporary haven to temporary haven, sweetening his welcome by flinging cash at the locals. (The cash won't be in Zibwabwe currency.)

But the cost of giving him sanctuary now is going to be far too costly. Country by country, they'll milk him for some money but then succumb to international pressure, wave handcuffs at him, and it's off to the airport again.

He may die of old age before he's ever actually locked away and tried. But he'll never know a night's true peace and safety.

I think I remember that Mugabe made a deal with North Korea to provide training for his police and security forces, so like the exiled Pol Pot, he may try to find sanctuary in a rogue state that thinks it's immune from economic and diplomatic pressure from the international community.

Then there's Tacho, who escaped to Stroessner's Security Zone in Paraguay. Perfectly safe and comfy. Until a bomb went off under his car.

If Mugabe finds any kind of temporary welcomes in Africa, there is a reason, as strange as it seems to much of the rest of the world. A great deal of black African living memory still remebers Euro colonial rule and the white rule of Ian Smith and Apartheid South Africa.

They spoke more eloquently and dressed more familiarly. But in a Cruelty and Barbarity Contest, I don't know who'd win the prize. Mugabe has only been a human rights criminal for 23 years. The Euros pulled that kind of brutal shit in Africa for centuries while loudly proving every Sunday that they had the permission and approval of Jesus Christ and his Dad.

If we're horrified by the brutality of the Myanmar junta, just read Orwell's memoir as a colonial policeman in "Burmese Days."

IAIN! Send us your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

As a ex Zambian (born and bred) my feelings for the Zimbabwean people is far greater than most as for people like yourselves you have no idea how degrading it is to tell your children,mother or grand parents they have to eat whatever they can find (rubbish and waste).Mugabe has no feelings except for wealth and power as the same as most so called leaders world wide.The people have spoken not once but over the past 3 elections and all the £$%"*&^ does is change the finish line.If he were to murder my family or take our farm I would take a vow that his days of shouting out victory at all his rallys would come to an end.Take a life and have yours taken.He is no person to talk about and we should all join in the fight for Zimbabwes freedom or march on all embasys that have anything to do with this madman.
ps I am a African allthough white and will gladely die for what I believe in

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hiya Cheryl,

Well, one way or the other, the Mugabe regime is passing away. If nothing else, he'll go where Fidel Castro is heading (which is where all of us are heading -- I won't specify if that will be Up or Down, for M, for F, or for you and me). 84 is pretty close to the Exit. Being a Dictator-For-Life carries a built-in Retirement Clause.

Okay now listen up ... thanks very much for writing. Now could I twist your arm to write us a bit about life growing up in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia? A little bit about Colonial rule or life under Ian Smith's breakaway regime?

Mugabe sucks, he's a 9.5 on The Hague Scale. But memories, individual or collective, fade, and I think it's important for readers, for people interested in what's happening in southern Africa, to know how things used to be. A college kid today can read lots of stuff about Mugabe. But how many college kids know any details of what life was like in the Colony of Rhodesia or during the Smith years?

Thanks for writing! And take a chill pill! Zimbabwe is on the verge of something resembling true parliamentary democracy. The transition will be pretty dreadful, but it looks pretty clear that soon, better times ahead.