RIGHTS AND WAR CRIMES
As the global community becomes more connected, there are fewer and fewer safe places for war criminals and people who commit political crimes.
On October 8, a court in England ruled that Augusto Pinochet, the former president of Chile, could be sent to Spain to face a criminal trial for human rights abuses. The Spanish prosecutor was joined by prosecutors from France, Belgium and Switzerland who say that Chileans living in those countries have relatives who were killed during Pinochet's rule which began in 1973 and ended in 1990.
The decision marks a trend in international law. More and more countries are using the powers granted by international treaties to send the message: "no matter where you are, if you've committed political crimes, we will punish you."
Now, the international community is dealing with possible war crimes in several places around the world. Special investigators are entering East Timor to see if war crimes were committed there. Trials are still going on for crimes committed in Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo.
War with rules
The definition of war crimes comes from what are called The Geneva Conventions, which were created after World War II.
After the war, world leaders met in Geneva, Switzerland to revise the rules of war. Their goal was to outline the distinction between "civilized" warfare and savage butchery. The Geneva Conventions state that people who are not fighting, including soldiers who have laid down their weapons, must be treated humanely. Murder, mutilation and torture are all outlawed, as are hostage-taking and degrading treatment.
When human rights abuses are suspected as a result of warfare, the United Nations may set up a tribunal. The tribunals are made up of delegates from around the world, who investigate and act as a court.
When human rights abuses take place under a dictatorship or an undemocratic government, it is usually citizens who have fled to other countries, or the new government who take the perpetrators to court.
In the case of General Pinochet, it is not the U.N., but a Spanish prosecutor wants to take the former president to trial for 34 counts of torture and conspiracy to torture his political enemies during the 17 years he was in charge.
Pinochet came to power when he led a military revolt against Chile's elected government in 1973. More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during the his 17-year military dictatorship.
Last October he was arrested in London, where he was recovering from back surgery. He has been under house arrest ever since. He is 83 years old.
In Britain, Pinochet is being defended by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She credits Pinochet with bringing democracy to Chile, and for siding with Britain during a 1982 war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
General Pinochet will not leave for Spain immediately. His lawyers will appeal, requesting that a higher court review the decision. After all appeals have been exhausted, the highest law officer, the Home Secretary, will decide whether General Pinochet should be sent to Spain.
Even if political circumstances in England and Spain mean that he isn't tried--the 83-year-old isn't in good health-- the case of Kingdom of Spain v. Pinochet sets the precedent that a former head of state accused of human rights abuses can be brought to trial in any country.
East Timor is recovering from a military conflict that began after a vote for independence in August. Witnesses and refugees described numerous atrocities and human rights abuses by local militias and the Indonesian Army.
The person in charge of human rights for the United Nations, Mary Robinson, is investigating the reports. She is to recommend by December 31st, whether there is enough evidence for a trial by an International War Crimes Tribunal.
She is sorting through reports from refugees, witnesses and victims, as well as physical evidence of executions and torture. In the time leading up to the vote on independence, there were reports of shootings, including reports that militia shot at election monitoring cars which had U.N. personnel. Many East Timorese fled to West Timor, where there were reports of refugees disappearing from detention camps.
Bosnia and Kosovo
War crime tribunals were also set up in 1994 to investigate the human atrocities committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
Serbian and Bosnian leaders, including President Slobodan Milosevic, are wanted by The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ITCY) for crimes against the Albanian people. The charges against him are the systematic oppression of the Albanian people, murder and degradation.
Wanted in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic first president of the Bosnian Serb administration, remains at large. He is charged with crimes committed against Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian conflict of the early 90s.
Other countries have begun to try Bosnian war criminals caught within their borders. In Germany, the Bavarian High Court sentenced Bosnian Serb Novislav Djajic to five years for aiding and abetting the killing of 14 Muslim men in Bosnia in 1992. The court decided that it had jurisdiction under the Geneva Conventions.
In Denmark, Bosnian Muslim Refik Saric is currently serving an eight-year sentence for war crimes. He is charged with torturing prisoners in a Croat-run prison in Bosnia in 1993.
During Rwanda's civil war in 1994, 500,000 people were brutally massacred. Much of the violence took place during a Hutu-led genocidal campaign against the Tutsi minority
The Prime Minister Jean Kambanda was found guilty of war crimes by a U.N. tribunal(ICTR). The tribunal also sentenced several members of the government to life in prison.
In Belgium, a Rwandan citizen, Vincent Ntezimana, has been arrested and charged with genocide. Belgian law gives judges broad rights to hear cases involving crimes against humanity, regardless of where they were committed or of the nationalities of the accused and the victims.
Unlike Rwanda and Kosovo, which relied on the U.N. to help investigate and try war criminals, South African has set up its own system for dealing with the human rights abuses.
From 1960 to 1994, 220 mostly black political activists were assassinated by state-sponsored death squads. The government detained 75,000 civilians without charges and swept up 3.5 million people from their homes at gunpoint.
Apartheid ended in 1994 with South Africa's first free, multi-racial elections, which made Nelson Mandela president and produced a black majority government.
Part of South Africa’s transition from a minority white government to majority black rule was the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate alleged atrocities committed during the apartheid era.
The Commission, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, acts as a platform for people to come forth with war crimes they committed.
The commission caused controversy as it considered thousands of amnesty applications, including four from apartheid era policemen who confessed their role in the killing of anti-apartheid Stephen Biko nearly two decades ago.
Bishop Tutu describes the philosophy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this way: "My humanity is caught up in yours and if you are dehumanized, I am dehumanized, and anger and resentment and retribution are corrosive of this great good, the harmony that has got to exist between people...we are looking to the healing of relationships, we are seeking to open wounds"
South Africans who committed crimes had to prove that the acts were politically motivated, and that they have repented, before they can receive amnesty, or forgiveness. The Commission aims for restorative justice, rather than retributive.
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