The legal sparring between the lawyers for and against the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet highlights the ambiguity, and even hypocrisy, of the application of international law. And many ironies are unfolding.
"It is only in rather exceptional circumstances like we find here that former heads of state find themselves in custody in a state other than their own," Ian Brownlie, a lawyer for Amnesty International, said this week.
Brownlie also said Pinochet's lawyer has an eccentric interpretation of the law but he seems to have an eccentric interpretation of history. For one thing, according to Nate Thayer, who interviewed Cambodia's former dictator Pol Pot before he died, the U.S. rejected an offer by the Khmer Rouge last March to arrest the dictator. Furthermore, the international community has by no means waited idly for dictators to fall into custody to make arrests, as evidenced by the U.S.' invasion of Panama to nab Manuel Noriega while the strongman was still in power.
If not Pol Pot, a genocidal murderer if there ever was one, then why Pinochet? It could very well be due to the left-leaning political sympathies of Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who has requested the extradition of Pinochet, and of the British government that has allowed it to go forward. But who really knows what lurks in the hearts of men?
What remains indisputable, however, is that applying international law ad hoc is dangerous indeed, especially when human rights abusers such as Congo's Laurent Kabila and Cuba's Fidel Castro are permitted to rule with impunity. The fact that one judge in Spain could arbitrarily find Pinochet guilty is frightening. Pinochet defendant Clare Montgomery made just this point when claiming Spain must prove it is "acting under some wider jurisdiction" before Pinochet can be stripped of his immunity. Chief Lord Justice Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson seemed to rebuff this argument by responding that "case will turn on" international treaties against torture "almost alone."
One of the sad ironies of the Pinochet trial is that even if the general were ultimately convicted, it may not set a precedent for the convictions of future ex-dictators and this would have been the case's only silver lining. …