brody2_Alex GottschalkDeFodi Images via Getty Images_ICC Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Tyrants in the Dock

A growing number of dictators and war criminals are finally facing prosecution, but not before the International Criminal Court. Instead, this surge of activity is taking place in national courts around the world and through hybrid tribunals, heralding the emergence of a new international justice ecosystem.

NEW YORK – Anyone hoping that Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon find himself in the dock of the International Criminal Court should take several long, deep breaths. While Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine has not gone as planned, his grip on power remains unchallenged. And even if the ICC were to indict Putin for war crimes, it has no police force to arrest him. The international community simply lacks such enforcement tools.

But Putin’s accomplices may not be as impervious as their leader. Over the past decade, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of tyrants and their henchmen brought to justice, particularly in domestic courts and “hybrid” tribunals that combine national and international components.

In September, a hybrid court formed by Cambodia and the United Nations upheld the life sentence of former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, who was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2014 for his part in the 1970s genocide. In 2016, a similar hybrid tribunal formed by the African Union and Senegal convicted the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré of crimes against humanity in a case that I helped prosecute. Peru, Guatemala, Egypt, and Burkina Faso have convicted their former leaders for human-rights crimes in domestic courts. In a case I am currently working on, the Gambian government seeks to prosecute exiled former President Yahya Jammeh before a hybrid court. And in September, Guinea began criminal proceedings against ex-strongman Moussa Dadis Camara for a 2009 massacre.

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