Friday, November 28, 2003

Toronto's Globe and Mail ran a wires' story about former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo has said his country will turn over Taylor to face trial if Liberia asks. Taylor, who is exiled in Nigeria, has been indicted for war crimes by the international tribunal in Sierra Leone. At this point, it seems unlikely Liberia will make such a request as its interim leader, Gyude Bryant, fears Taylor's trial would jeopardize a fragile peace in the West African country.

The article also noted how the US Congress placed a US$2 million reward for Taylor's capture and rebuked Nigeria for offering asylum to the indicted war criminal. The Bush administration, who played a key role in negotiating Taylor's departure, distanced itself from the move.

Still, this concept of immunity is interesting. Some people are granted immunity from trial for crimes against humanity simply because they used to be head of state. The US opposed attempts to bring to justice former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The fundamental excuse they used was that Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity because he is a former head of state. Of course, it's absurd to argue that a head of state, the highest law enforcement officer of the land, should be held to a lower standard than the ordinary citizen*.

But no such protestations were made when former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial. Nor for Panama's Gen. Manuel Noreiga, who languishes in an American prison. Do you think Saddam will be granted diplomatic immunity if coalition forces capture him? Of course not. Nor should he.

*-See my essay Immunity is just one letter away from impunity, May 28, 2003.


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