At a recent Washington forum on democratic transitions, former national security aide Elliot Abrams recalled a visit by Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to Ronald Reagan’s White House in which he offered to quietly accommodate any Latin American dictator or military junta member in a secluded villa on condition that they cede power without violence.
After Chile’s former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet (left), was arrested in London, such accommodations became more problematic and some observers now contend that the prospect of prosecution by the International Criminal Court gives dictators like Libya’s Col Gaddafi and Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir an incentive to resort to violence rather than negotiate a peaceful transfer of power.
As recent democratic transitions attest, “accommodating former rulers raises the difficult issue of balancing the need for stability and inclusion with demands for retribution and justice.”
“It has never been easy for any country to confront its past,” writes Kathryn Sikkink in the New York Times. “Almost all leaders, when faced with calls for accountability, have wanted to turn the page and look toward the future. But demands for justice are robust, and countries that have held former leaders accountable have in most cases come away stronger.”