- - Wednesday, June 8, 2016


In “The long reach of justice” (Web, June 6) Andrew Nagorski contends that the recent war-crimes conviction of former Chad President Hissene Habre demonstrates that “now there is no sanctuary” for war criminals, “no matter how far they run [o]r how long they elude justice.” It could be argued, however, that the Habre case really demonstrates that punishment of war criminals depends entirely on the willingness of other governments to act against them — and all too often, political considerations get in the way.

After years of committing atrocities, in 1990 Habre fled to Senegal, where the government opted to let him live in peace and safety. It took 15 years of international pressure to get the Sengalese authorities to even put Habre under nominal “house arrest,” and another eight years to put him on trial. In other words, Habre enjoyed 23 years of comfort and security. And while a Chadian court sentenced Habre to death in absentia, the Sengalese tribunal, despite finding him guilty of murdering 40,000 people, sentenced him to life in prison, raising the possibility that he might one day be set free.

The case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir further illustrates the problem of politics trumping justice. al-Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the International Criminal Court for sponsoring the Arab militias that carried out the Darfur genocide. Yet for the past seven years, al-Bashir has traveled openly to countries that presumably are friendly to the United States, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait — and the Obama administration has made no attempt to apprehend him.

When U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf introduced legislation to penalize regimes that host al-Bashir, the Obama administration strongly opposed the bill. In fact, the administration has not even criticized the governments that have hosted al-Bashir, even though some of those regimes are major recipients of U.S. aid.

Evidently President Obama places a higher priority on avoiding a tiff with al-Bashir’s backers — the Arab League, Russia and China — than he does on bringing a perpetrator of genocide to justice.


Director, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies


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