Tag: mugabe

Why Not Assassinate Mugabe? Why Not To.

Due to more than one misinterpretation of the original version of this post, I have altered the title and extended / clarified the argument, which now reads as follows:

In the wake of Mugabe’s “re-election,” political violence in the country is on the increase. Jake Farr Wharton has a modest proposal:

“Mugabe‚Äôs forces violently bullied and intimidated the people of Zimbabwe into a second election. Last week, Tsvangiri withdrew his candidacy, siting that he could not stand for president when anyone who voted for him, was doing so at a very real risk to their families lives. As such, Mugabe ran unopposed and won. The many people he had killed, maimed, imprisoned, held hostage and the villages he had destroyed devastatingly culminated in a win for him. The violent intimidation worked.

Where is the UN when they are actually needed? Where is the African Union when they are actually needed? End this man in the only way he knows how, assassinate him. Let it be done and hold a new election, one overseen by the UN and African Union.”

There are moral arguments to be made here. Politicians whose thugs burn little boys alive because their father supports the opposition don’t deserve the protection of sovereign immunity. And Ward Thomas has made a convincing case that the norm against assassinating heads of state has little ethical basis, since it protects the guiltiest civilians while often resulting in protracted wars that cost the lives of the most innocent or, at best (when wars are fought professionally) of soldiers who have often been conscripted. Besides, the CIA would no doubt dispatch him more humanely than his own people ultimately will… recall the untimely end of Samuel Doe, former President of Liberia.

So why not assassinate Mugabe? At Elected Swineherd, Empedocles harbors doubts on pragmatic, rather than moral grounds:

“Such an operation would likely leave an open door for widespread ethnic violence in its wake. What is needed instead is a UN or SADC (South African Development Council) peacekeeping deployment to coordinate humanitarian aid and a slow political transition.”

Hmm, s/he’s got a point there. The Rwandan genocide was tipped off by the apparent assassination of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, after which the Tutsi population of the country was scape-goated, providing a pretext for root-and-branch massacres. Though, is Zimbabwe Rwanda? Or is it early Nazi Germany, where the stage is not yet set for full-blown genocide but the leadership has the power and political will to do so if not removed? And a peacekeeping mission? One was in place in Rwanda in April 1994.

[Even if these pragmatic concerns and potential alternatives are overblown, there is still an argument on ethical grounds to counter Wharton’s idea and Thomas’ ethical analysis. It is this: two wrongs don’t make a right. Promoting rule of law and human rights means no extrajudicial executions; the accused should be indicted, arrested, held, tried and only punished if they are found guilty. In theory, this standard should be no less true for statesmen and women than for the citizens we wish leaders like Mugabe would allow to enjoy these same rights. The problem with moral absolutism, some will say, is that it rarely is a recipe for proper statecraft.]

Perhaps the best (though perhaps also the worst) reason why not to go down this road is a self-interested one: to preserve the anti-assassination norm itself, which functions to protect the interests of the great powers, including the US, whose leaders are likeliest to be the targets of such attacks in the future; [and to protect the stability of the international rule-sets that have precluded great power war for sixty years.]

Which still begs the question of what should be done [to help the people of Zimbabwe].


Fuzzy Logic

This week, as part of my “Theory and Beer” meeting with doctoral students, we considered Michael Gilligan’s thought-provoking formal theory article on the International Criminal Court, published two years ago in International Organization.

Gilligan uses a formal model to “test” whether the International Criminal Court can be an effective judicial institution given that it has no police arm and, as is so clear with respect to Darfur, cannot force states to extradite indictees.

His argument in a nutshell:

“Although the institution has no enforcement power, some leaders (those with such a high probability of being deposed that they would willingly surrender to the institution rather than try to stay in office) will be punished by it [because] in those circumstances… foreign state(s) have no incentive to offer the leader asylum. [Thus], the institution may deter some atrocities at the margin.”

In other words, if atrocity-committing dictators are about to be deposed they will prefer some form of exile to the possibility of torture and execution; they will prefer exile in freedom in a third party state, but they will turn themselves over to a court if third party states do not offer them exile; and such states would have less incentive to make such offers, presumably, now that a plausible alternative – jail in the Hague – is available as a means of removing said dictator.

Gilligan’s model works flawlessly, given its assumptions, but those assumptions are not well substantiated in his piece. In particular his argument hinges on the idea that “foreign countries prefer not to have atrocity-committing dictators in power in other countries and so cannot credibly commit to deny asylum to an asylum-seeking human rights abuser” (p. 943).

I can see at least two problems with this assumption. First, I see no basis for thinking foreign countries care a whit for atrocity-committing dictators remaining in power. If they did, why would they wait until the person was about to be deposed to try to buy them off? Second, I am unconvinced that decisions to extend exile are based on the desire to remove them from power. There are many other possible explanations, the most banal of which is that many other sitting heads of government will have personal connections to any particular dictator as they are all part of the diplomatic club. Why else wouldn’t they be just as satisfied to see the dictator killed Samuel Doe style by the angry hordes?

Some interesting recent evidence that the “third-party exile” norm is well-entrenched: Malaysia has just offered exile to embattled Zimbabwean President Mugabe. Admittedly it’s not a fair test of Gilligan’s model since the ICC hasn’t indicted Mugabe for anything. But does Gilligan really think that if it had, Malaysia would not still be “welcoming Mugabe with open arms?”

If the incoming President ratifies the ICC Statute and the Prosecutor issues an indictment, this event may yet provide a helpful test of Gilligan’s model. In that case the question would be whether Malaysia is willing to extradite. My guess: without amending the ICC statute to make it an international crime to “harbor former dictators” Gilligan’s model won’t matter much even if it’s right. Anyway, until we see some empirical data, a study like this remains purely abstract and nonsensical.


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