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A death blow to the ICC
by Amin George Forji
2006-12-13 10:37:45
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Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet died on December 10th in the Santiago military hospital, where he had been recovering from a heart attack for a week. Priests had administered him with last rites, but doctors believed he was recovering after subsequently undergoing a major operation. "He died surrounded by his family," Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara, who was one of the attending doctors, told reporters, refraining from providing full details, saying that will soon be made available.
Many news channels interrupted programmes to announce the breaking news. Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973-90 in what was generally considered to be a brutal military dictatorship. It is estimated that about a thousand people disappeared during his regime, 3,000 others killed and many more thousands seriously tortured, illegally imprisoned or forced to go into exile. He is further said to have siphoned $27million into secret offshore bank accounts that were still under investigation at the time of his death.
Although charged on gross human rights violations during his reign, his death meant that he successfully evaded justice, like Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, who was indicted at the ICC in The Hague, but never received judgment before he died. Many European countries and human rights activists have recommended that the trial of the former dictator will be more appropriate under the universal system of criminal justice, than in a domestic court, given that the offences he committed were clearly crimes against humanity.
In the end, Pinochet stood trial at neither the International Criminal Court (ICC) nor a domestic court, after his lawyers successfully argued at every occasion that he was too ill to stand trial. Instituted since 1998, the ICC came as a promise, not only to international law in general and human rights in particular, but also raised the hope that as it begins to prosecute seasoned leaders who committed humanitarian atrocities, like-minded administrators across will be deterred.
Unfortunately, whether by accident or by chance, the ICC is still to make any remarkable conviction of any leader guilty of the said crimes against humanity, although these are on a daily occurrence in many nations. Think of Darfur in Sudan. Should the court rethink its commitment a little bit or continue to wait until brutal world leaders leave office, when most of the victims may have long died, or its too late to help them before they seek for their prosecution, or should it extend its jurisdiction to incriminate those still in power, seriously persecuting their own subjects?
Pinochet’s death could be seen as yet another natural blow behind the spirit of the court. If anything, the one very good lesson that we must learn from his death is that if we really mean to go for justice, we must be quick about it, for justice delayed is justice denied. And if the so-called international court (ICC) is determined to try it’s culprits, then it must begin thinking of how to quicken its procedures, because from every indication, most of those who will come before the court will often be in their old ages.
In what may have been the prediction of his own death, Pinochet, during his 91st birthday on November 25th, took the world by surprise when he assumed full “political” responsibility for the misdeeds committed under regime for the very first time. His failure to appear before a court may well make the whole idea behind prosecution for humanitarian crimes a practical joke. Isn’t it time we rethink how best to go about this kind of justice?

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