Legal action against those accused of committing brutal violations of human rights has flourished in the last decade. Saddam Hussein awaits trial in Iraq. Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s former military leader, has been pursued by European and Chilean prosecuting judges since Spain’s Balthasar Garzón sought his extradition for murder in October 1998. Meanwhile, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”), Slobodan Milosevic is preparing his defense against charges of genocide and war crimes. Even U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with other senior officials, has been accused in a privately filed criminal complaint in Germany of being responsible for the torture of prisoners held in Iraq. Such legal actions were almost unimaginable a decade ago.
These are only the most prominent cases. A dozen senior Baathist officials face prosecution by Iraq’s new government. In Argentina, a 2001 court ruling abrogated laws giving immunity to military officers who oversaw andparticipated in the kidnapping and secret execution (“disappearance”) of as many as 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983. Two years later, Argentina’s parliament annulled the laws, mooting a pending appeal and reversing nearly two decades of hostility by the country’s elected leaders to criminal prosecution of perpetrators of atrocities during the dictatorship. In 2001, a Belgian jury sentenced four Rwandans to prison for participating in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Victims of Chadian dictator-turned expatriate Hissène Habré brought a criminal complaint against him in Senegal in January 1999, alleging torture, barbarous acts, and crimes against humanity. While the case was dismissed, it opened up new possibilities for calling Habré to legal account in Chad, as the Pinochet case had in Chile.
In addition to national courts, international criminal tribunals have recently become important forums for human rights cases. The prosecutor of the new International Criminal Court (“ICC”), veteran Argentine human rights lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo, is investigating atrocities in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. The ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”) have imprisoned dozens of perpetrators of unspeakable horrors after trials and guilty pleas11 and have delivered groundbreaking judgments advancing international law. “Hybrid” courts with varying degrees of international involvement and independence from national court systems are prosecuting perpetrators of human rights violations in East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone.