A Human Rights Litigator’s Misgivings

Taking human rights violators to court can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Old Augusto Pinochet (Foto) thought he’d get away with all the atrocities he committed in Chile, but no: A spanish judge had him arrested in London, and that sort of cracked the consensus in Chile that the success of democratic transition depends on leaving uniformed torturers untouched. The general had to face justice after all (although he never spent a day in jail in the end).

South American military dictators like Chile’s Pinochet and Argentina’s Videla might be prime examples of successful human rights litigation: Victims have run out of options in their home countries, all legal remedies exhausted and the perpetrators still roaming free. So they sue them abroad, by means of laws enacted in the name of the universality of human rights (such as our own Völkerstrafgesetzbuch).

The victims get their day in court, and even if that doesn’t directly lead to punishment for the perpetrators it still makes their lives more difficult: They get a lot of bad press: The world notices what despicable persons they are. They cannot travel as easily any more: Those skiing trips to Switzerland will have to end if they don’t want te risk being arrested. They are held accountable for what they did: Isn’t that what criminal justice is all about?

Yesterday I heard a conference at Wissenschaftskolleg here in Berlin by Wolfgang Kaleck, co-founder of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Germany’s most prominent human rights litigator.

He made all those points to underline the merits of his profession. But at the same time he showed a remarkable degree of pensiveness about his line of business.

First, there is the issue of what business human rights activists from a place like Germany, litigating or not, have at all to meddle with other people’s grievances ...

Zum vollständigen Artikel

Cookies helfen bei der Bereitstellung unserer Dienste. Durch die Nutzung erklären Sie sich mit der Cookie-Setzung einverstanden. Mehr OK