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The welcome arrest of an accused Rwanda war criminal

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“Without justice, courage is weak,” Benjamin Franklin wrote, and around the world, courage and justice are in evidence regarding purveyors of mass murder.

Early in the morning of May 16, French police arrested Félicien Kabuga in a Paris apartment. Accused of leading and helping to finance the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he topped the list of the world’s most wanted fugitives.

That list shrinks, slowly but steadily. In March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Radovan Karadžić of genocide. He is responsible for a massacre of approximately 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

In April 2012, an international Special Court convicted former President Charles Taylor of Liberia of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor aided Sierra Leone rebel forces in carrying out bloody, brutal atrocities.

Liberia under Taylor was rightly regarded as having a ruling regime that was corrupt and dangerous, both domestically and toward other countries. Liberia’s eventual President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf earlier spent more than a year in prison during the era of Taylor’s dictatorship, and he once threatened to kill her. She acquired the nickname “The Iron Lady” because of her legendary determination and courage.

Around the world, justice is catching up with a range of mass murderers through due process. In November 2011, a jury in New York City convicted Viktor Bout for trying to sell arms to the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in order to kill Americans. His nickname is “The Merchant of Death.”

Bout was seized in Thailand in a sting operation orchestrated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The Thai government initially vetoed extradition, in response to strong pressures from Russian interests. The turnabout reflected very intense continuous effort by the United States government.

Former Soviet army officer Bout became rich and feared dealing in weapons and drugs on a vast scale. The book “Merchant of Death” documents his extraordinary career. Authors Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun provide details regarding a global trail marked in blood. Bout’s arrest in a luxury hotel was a victory for basic morality and decency as well as law enforcement.

Initially based in Russia, Bout moved his operations to Belgium, then the United Arab Emirates. For years, he kept just barely ahead of a comprehensive worldwide law-enforcement effort to take him down.

Also in 2011, Goran Hadžić was arrested in Serbia. He was the last remaining accused Balkans war criminal not yet taken into custody following the brutal fighting in that region during the 1990s.

United Nations officials joined with representatives of the international judicial tribunal overseeing these trials in welcoming this benchmark event. Slow and inefficient, international legal institutions nonetheless steadily are making progress.

If this brief brutal list indicates such practices are removed from the United States, think again. Edwin P. Wilson, a retired U.S. intelligence pro, went to work for terrorist state Libya in the 1970s. Wilson recruited expert military veterans, including U.S. Army Green Berets, for Colonel Qaddafi’s regime.

Wilson eventually was released from prison after over two decades behind bars. A federal judge declared the Central Intelligence Agency and Justice Department had acted improperly, and overturned his conviction on procedural grounds.

By definition, the rule of law obliges respect for due process. The presumption of innocence is essential to protecting all citizens.

Dr. Franklin and fellow Founders understood the goal is great but the process often painful.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). Contact acyr@carthage.edu