Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

From the eXile Files: An Essay on Trading Justice for Peace

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

From the eXile Files: An Essay on Trading Justice for Peace

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Since 1990, three different U.S. Presidents have accused Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of committing grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and acts of genocide.' Although the Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention require state parties to bring offenders to justice, on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush offered to call off the attack if Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants would agree to relinquish power and go into exile.2 This was no publicity stunt, as some have characterized it. Working through President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the United States actively pursued the matter with several Mideast countries, ultimately persuading Bahrain to agree to provide sanctuary to Hussein if he accepted the deal.3 When Hussein rejected the proposal, Bush promised that the Iraqi leader would be forced from power and prosecuted as a war criminal.4

Admittedly, thousands of lives could have been spared if Hussein had accepted the deal. But at the risk of being accused of blindly embracing Kant's prescription that "justice must be done even should the heavens fall,"5 this Article argues that it was inappropriate for the Bush Administration even to make the offer, and that if implemented the exile-for-peace deal would have seriously undermined the Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention, which require prosecution of alleged offenders without exception.

A few months after the invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials helped broker a deal whereby Liberian President Charles Taylor, who had been indicted for crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, agreed to give up power and was allowed to flee to Nigeria, where he received asylum.6 At the time, forces opposed to Taylor, which had taken over most of the country, were on the verge of attacking the capital city Monrovia, and tens of thousands of civilian casualties were forecast. The exile deal averted the crisis and set the stage for insertion of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that stabilized the country and set it on a path to peace and democracy.7 In contrast to the Hussein case, the Taylor arrangement did not in any way violate international law. This Article explains why international law should treat the two situations differently, prohibiting exile and asylum for Saddam Hussein while permitting such a justice-for-peace exchange in the case of Charles Taylor.

This is the first scholarly article in recent years to focus on the significant issue of exile. Scholarship on the analogous issue of amnesty has been written largely from the point of view of aggressive advocates of international justice, whose writing is based on the assumption that the widespread state practice favoring amnesties constitutes a violation of, rather than a reflection of, international law in this area.8 Before analyzing the relevant legal principles, the Article begins with an examination of the practical considerations that counsel for and against the practice of "trading justice for peace." Next, using the Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor cases as a focal point, the Article analyzes the relevant international instruments which require prosecution under limited circumstances. This is followed by a critique of the popular view that customary international law and the principle of jus cogens broadly prohibit actions that prevent prosecution of crimes under international law. The Article establishes that there does not yet exist a customary international law rule requiring prosecution of war crimes in internal armed conflict or crimes against humanity, but that there is a duty to prosecute in the case of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the crime of genocide, and torture. Where the duty to prosecute does apply, it is important that states and international organizations honor it, lest they signal disrespect for the important treaties from which the duty arises, potentially putting their own citizens at risk and generally undermining the rule of law. …

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