Saturday, 17 September 2011

Making tyrants do time

A fascinating opinion piece by Kathryn Sikkink in the New York Times compares prosecutions of human rights abuses across the globe. Often, one excuse given for not pursuing atrocities is that it leads to "destabilisation", including the threat of a (further) military coup (see the justifications for the introduction of the "Full Stop" and "Due Obedience" laws in Argentina in the '80s). Yet, according to Sikkink,
transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant. [...]
Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment.
What is more,

trials seem to project deterrence across borders. If a number of countries in a region pursue prosecutions, nearby countries also show a decrease in the level of repression, even if they have not held trials. [...] In Latin America, young military officers need only look to Argentina and Chile, where 81 and 66 individuals, respectively, have been convicted for crimes during previous dictatorships, to absorb the lesson that the possibility of punishment is much greater than it was in the past. This may help explain why military coups are now so rare in the region.

This is important stuff; let's have more cross-border comparison of post-dictatorship and post-conflict democratisation processes, please.

Making tyrants do time
(NY Times)

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